Does Marine Mammal Health Play a Role in the National Marine Mammal Research Program?
Over the past decade, the public, scientific and environmental communities and the federal agencies have become increasingly concerned about the health of marine mammals and have used their physical well-being as an overall indicator of the health of marine ecosystems. Yet, as the government moves forward with national research plans such as the Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy, the explicit mention of the importance of research into marine mammal health is absent. Moreover, the research focus for several federal agencies has turned to investigating the impact of anthropogenic sound on marine mammals. For example, the Scientific Research Caucus Statement, developed as an outcome of the Marine Mammal Commission's Federal Advisory Committee (FACA) on Acoustic Impacts on Marine Mammals, recommends that: "A U.S. national research program should be established to support research to understand interactions between marine mammals and all sources of sound." The statement specified that this be an interagency program, that it allow private contributions, have diverse funding sources, follow well-established procedures for competitive peer-review of awards, convene a national workshop to develop an overarching research strategy and implementation plan and have a national program office.
Today, there is an Inter-Agency process to develop a marine mammal research plan and segments of the research community are coming together to develop legislative proposals for a National Marine Mammal Research Program. The program has evolved to encompass many areas of marine mammal research, going beyond just the impacts of acoustics. Nevertheless, voices speaking to the importance of research into marine mammal health are still silent. As a result, few policy-makers understand the role marine mammal health plays in marine conservation efforts (e.g., species recovery and responses to anthropogenic threats). Consequently, the broader marine mammal research community has little appreciation for the importance of health research as a critical element of an overall national marine mammal research program.
It is essential that the marine mammal health community have a place in these discussions and a role in the development of the National Marine Mammal Research Program. The author will review the state of progress regarding the development of both a marine mammal research plan and a national research program and will recommend actions that researchers should take to influence the outcome of both efforts.
The author would like to thank the scientists that participate on the marine mammal working group for the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education--Jim Miller, John Orcutt, Dick Pittenger, Mike Purdy, Peter Worcester, Gerald D'Spain, Ann Pabst, Darlene Ketten, Richard West, Peter Tyack, Dan Costa, William Dewar, Paul Nachtigall, Arthur Baggeroer, David Bradley, Dorian Houser
1. Scientific Research Caucus Statement for The Report of the Advisory Committee on Acoustic Impacts on Marine Mammals to the Marine Mammal Commission. 2006. available at www.mmc.gov