Commission Newsletter • Spring 2024

Six Species

For about 1 penny per American per year, the Marine Mammal Commission has met its Congressional mandate to conserve marine mammals for 50 years. 

We work to ensure that marine mammal populations are restored and maintained as functioning elements of healthy marine ecosystems in the world's oceans.

Welcoming a New Commission Scientific Advisor

The Commission is assisted in its work by a nine-member Committee of Scientific Advisors (CSA) on Marine Mammals. Committee members are appointed by the Chair of the Commission after consultation with the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, the Director of the National Science Foundation, and the Chair of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina, was appointed to the CSA on April 22nd, by Commission Chair, Dr. Frances Gulland. Dr. Meyer-Gutbrod is a quantitative marine ecologist who uses statistical, demographic, and spatial models to understand how marine species respond to environmental and anthropogenic processes. To learn more about Dr. Meyer-Gutbrod, visit our website.

The Commission would like to extend its appreciation to Dr. Patricia Rosel, who is rotating off the CSA. Dr. Rosel served on the CSA for 14 years, providing insights on population structure, taxonomy and phylogenetics of cetaceans in the northwest Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

Recent North Atlantic Right Whale Mortalities Cast Shadow on

Important Calving Season

North Atlantic right whale Skittle and her calf. Credit: Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #26919. Aerial survey funded by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The North Atlantic right whale 2024 calving season has come to a close with 19 calves spotted in the southeast this year. Compared to recent years, this increase in births is encouraging to see, especially given that there are fewer than 70 reproductively active females remaining. Unfortunately, three mothers seen with new calves during the 2024 calving season have been subsequently seen without their calves and a fourth calf died from wounds suffered from a vessel strike. Additionally, blunt force trauma from a vessel strike resulted in the death of a mother whale. Her dependent calf is unlikely to survive. This tragic news is compounded by the fact that two juvenile female right whales have been found dead this year. One suffered from chronic entanglement and the other died from blunt force trauma consistent with a vessel strike. Entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes continue to pose significant threats to this species and are the primary causes of the unusual mortality event that has been ongoing since 2017. Recovery of this species depends on less than one human-caused death per year, and five human-caused deaths and serious injuries have already occurred in the first few months of 2024.

The Commission remains committed to protecting and conserving this critically endangered species and has continued to engage on this issue in the past few months by:


  • keeping informed of right whale sightings on the calving grounds and in the northeast,
  • participating and presenting at the North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Risk Reduction Technology Workshop,
  • attending Massachusetts Right Whale Day event and the North Atlantic Right Whale Recovery Plan Southeast U.S. Implementation Team meeting,
  • briefing Congressional offices on North Atlantic right whale issues and updates, and
  • submitting comments to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management related to leasing and construction of offshore wind energy off the Atlantic coast. 

New Content on MMC Website

Check out two new webpages on the Commission website,!

Large Whales and Vessel Strikes - Even though whales are large animals, collisions with boats of all sizes can kill and injure them. In the U.S., vessel strike has been identified as a major threat to many large whale species, including North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales, Rice’s whales, blue whales, humpback whales, and fin whales.

Highlighting Recent Research Grants - With a relatively modest budget, our Grants and Research program has filled an important and unique niche in marine mammal research for many years, funding novel, low-cost, small-scale projects to help us carry out our responsibilities under Title II of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This page highlights a few projects we have supported in the recent past.

Commission Attends Regional Scientific Review Group Meetings

Under Section 117 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) must prepare stock assessments for all marine mammal stocks under their jurisdiction in consultation with regional Scientific Review Groups (SRGs). The SRGs are comprised of experts across a range of fields, including marine mammal biology and ecology, population dynamics and modeling, and fisheries science. The SRGs review draft stock assessment reports and advise NMFS and FWS on various aspects of the reports, including methods for estimating population size, approaches for estimating human-caused mortality and serious injury, research needed to address uncertainties in population assessments, to reduce mortality incidental to fishing operations, and to counter the potential impacts of habitat destruction and other habitat changes.

There are three SRGs—Alaska, Atlantic, and Pacific—and each one holds an annual meeting for NMFS and FWS to provide updates to the SRG members on their respective research activities, and on the status of marine mammal stocks in each region. This year, multiple members of the Commission attended each of the SRG meetings in Seattle, Washington (Alaska SRG); Charleston, South Carolina (Atlantic SRG); and San Diego, California (Pacific SRG). The information that the Commission gathers from the SRGs helps it to prepare comments and recommendations for improving stock assessment reports (SARs). The Commission’s most recent letter provided comments to NMFS on SARs for marine mammal stocks under its jurisdiction updated in the prior year, see below.

Highlighting Commission Comments and Recommendations

Marine mammal observers scan the surface of the water with hand-held binoculars and high-powered mounted large binoculars, we call “bigeyes”. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/ Debra Abercrombie.

The Commission provides science-based oversight of domestic and international policies and actions of federal agencies, reviewing proposed actions and providing recommendations to minimize their impacts on marine mammals and their environment. The Commission drafts and submits over fifty recommendation letters every year, each of which are posted to our website along with responses from recipients when available. Below are two recommendation letters on national programs important to marine mammal conservation and management, which can be read in their entirety on the Commission website.

  • On April 26th, the Commission submitted a letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management recommending continued funding of the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species.

International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee Meets

The International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee (SC) met in Bled, Slovenia from 22 April to 3 May 2024. Several members of the Marine Mammal Commission’s CSA and staff attended to participate in sessions on a wide variety of topics, including, population assessments, human-induced mortality, including fishery bycatch and vessel strike, Aboriginal subsistence whaling, whale watching, and conservation of small cetaceans. A report with recommendations from the SC meeting will be available at in June 2024 for consideration a by the International Whaling Commission at their upcoming meeting in Lima, Peru in September 2004.

New MMC-affiliated publications, media, and reports!

Southern Resident killer whales (Credit: Kimberly Nielsen, Oceans Initiative)

Below are a few recent highlights that reflect some of the ongoing scientific research, collaborations, interviews, and accomplishments of our world-renowned marine mammal scientists. For a reminder about our Commissioners, Committee of Scientific Advisors (CSA), and Staff, visit our website

Warning Signs for Southern Resident Killer Whales – Frances Gulland

New Techniques for Estimating Age and Assessing Dolphin Health – Lori Schwacke, Randall Wells, and Patricia Rosel

North Pacific Humpback Whales: Shift from Recovery to Climate Response – Daniel Palacios

Effects of Satellite Tags on Humpback Whales – Frances Gulland

Biologically Important Areas II – West Coast Region – Daniel Palacios and Karin Forney

New Un-barbed Dolphin Tag – Randall Wells

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