USDA Transportation Standards for Pinnipeds and Sea Otters
IAAAM 2014
Laurie J. Gage1*
1Center for Animal Welfare, USDA APHIS Animal Care, Napa, CA, USA


There have been preventable deaths associated with the transport of marine mammals. Pinnipeds have died as a result of transport due to complications of hyperthermia. Hyperthermia has resulted from housing animals in inappropriate transport cages, or transporting animals within primary conveyances that were not adjusted appropriately for high ambient temperature and humidity. Sea otters have died due to complications of lungworm parasite load when transported by air at high altitudes when the interior of the aircraft was not pressurized.

The United States Department of Agriculture APHIS Animal Care has regulations that cover humane handling, care, treatment and transportation of marine mammals located in Part 3, Subpart E of the Animal Welfare Regulations. Transportation standards have been established and cover all aspects of the transportation of marine mammals.

Carriers and intermediate handlers are not to accept marine mammals more than 4 hours prior to the scheduled departure of the primary conveyance (aircraft, truck, etc.). The carrier/intermediate handler and the dealer/owner of the animal(s) may mutually agree to extend the time of acceptance to not more than 6 hours if specific prior scheduling of the animal shipment to the destination has been made. Carriers and intermediate handlers shall not accept marine mammals without a health certificate signed by the attending veterinarian stating the animal was examined within the prior 10 days and found to be in acceptable health for transport.

Marine mammals must be transported in acceptable primary enclosures that conform to the requirements listed in section 3.113. Carriers or intermediate handlers must maintain facilities at temperatures within the range of 7.2°C (45°F) to 23.9°C (75°F) unless a veterinarian has issued a signed certificate stating the animals in the shipment are acclimated to specific temperatures outside of that range.

Primary enclosures used to transport marine mammals other than cetaceans and sirenians must be constructed of materials that are strong, durable, non-toxic that cannot be chewed and/or swallowed, and have interiors free from protrusions or hazardous openings. No parts of the contained marine mammals may be exposed to the outside of the enclosures in any way that may cause injury to the animals or persons who may handle the enclosures. They must have openings that provide access into the enclosures and are secured with locking devices that cannot be accidentally opened. The openings must be located in a manner that makes them easily accessible at all times for emergency removal and potential treatment of any marine mammal contained. There must be air inlets at heights that will provide cross ventilation at all levels and located on all four sides of the enclosures and cover not less than 20% of the total surface area of each side of the enclosure. Projecting rims must be placed such that there is a minimum air circulation of 7.6 centimeters (3 inches) between the enclosures and any adjacent cargo or wall. The air circulation must be sufficient to maintain temperature limits between 7.2–23.9°C.

Primary enclosures must be large enough to assure that each animal has sufficient space to turn about freely in a stance whereby all four feet or flippers are on the floor and the animal can sit in an upright position and lie in a natural position. Marine mammals transported in the same primary enclosure must be of the same species and maintained in compatible groups. Those that have not reached puberty may not be transported in the same primary enclosure with adult marine mammals other than their dams. Socially dependent animals must be allowed visual and olfactory contact whenever reasonable. Females may not be transported in the same primary enclosure with any mature males.

Transport enclosures must have solid bottoms to prevent leakage in shipment and must be cleaned and sanitized if previously used. The animals will be maintained on sturdy, rigid, solid floors with adequate drainage. Documents accompanying the shipment must be easily accessible.

All primary conveyances must be sufficiently temperature-controlled to provide an appropriate environment temperature for the species involved and to provide for the safety and comfort of the marine mammal, or other appropriate safeguards such as cooling the animals with cold water, adding ice to water-filled enclosures and the use of fans, may be used to maintain the animal at an appropriate temperature. Ingress of exhaust fumes and gasses must be prevented. Each marine mammal must have sufficient air. Adequate lighting must be available for attendants to property inspect the animals at any time.

A licensed veterinarian, employee, and/or attendant knowledgeable and experienced in the area of marine mammal care and transport must accompany all marine mammals during periods of transportation to provide for their good health and wellbeing, to observe for any health issues and to obtain any needed veterinary care as soon as possible. Any transport of greater than 2 hours requires a transport plan approved by the attending veterinarian that will include the specification of the necessity of the presence of a veterinarian during the transport. If the veterinarian does not accompany the animal, communication with the veterinarian must be maintained. The attending veterinarian must determine if pregnant animals in the last half of pregnancy, dependent unweaned young animals, nursing mother with young or any animal with a medical condition requiring veterinary care may be transported, and whether a veterinarian should accompany the transport. Marine mammals may be removed from their primary transport enclosures only by the attendants or other persons capable of handling such animals safely.

Standards for terminal facilities are found in the Animal Welfare Act Standards. Animals must be moved as expeditiously as possible, provided with shelter from overheating and direct sunlight and shelter from cold weather.

Attention to detail and garnering advice from highly experienced individuals in the industry may prevent future suffering or death associated with the transport of marine mammals.

* Presenting author


Speaker Information
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Laurie J. Gage
Center for Animal Welfare
USDA APHIS Animal Care
Napa, CA, USA

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