The Protected Species Science Program (PSSP) within the NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology provides science necessary to support and inform management decisions. We do this by coordinating closely with the six Fisheries Science Centers, the Office of Protected Resources (management counterpart), and other NOAA Headquarters offices. Management and regulatory decisions related to marine mammals and sea turtles are guided principally by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). For more information on permitting and laws and regulations, please visit the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources website.
Principle PSSP responsibilities include:
- National and international science coordination;
- Setting science standards and improving science quality;
- Being responsive to and coordinating science initiatives that support protected species management needs;
- Conducting or supporting proactive science and long-term research related to sea turtle and marine mammal life history, behavioral ecology, population dynamics, and impacts from noise, climate, and human activities;
- Organizing workshops and seminars to develop novel tools and techniques to aid in population assessments;
- Pioneering and promoting the use of advanced technology to study transboundary, rare, and inaccessible marine species;
- Participating in and leading inter-agency working groups and research collaborations;
- Leveraging, creating, and strengthening international partnerships; and
- Strategic research and budget priorities planning.
Marine Mammals and Turtles
Marine mammals are a wide-ranging collection of mammals that all rely on the aquatic environment for survival. Whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, manatees, walruses, sea otters, and even the polar bear are considered marine mammals. These animals evolved from various terrestrial ancestors to re-inhabit aquatic environments to differing degrees. Whales and dolphins, for example, are completely dependent on the marine environment for their entire life histories. Seals and sea lions, however, forage and feed at sea, but return to land to breed and give birth. Each of these animals shares traits common to all mammals including mammary glands to nurse their young, being endothermic or warm-blooded, having hair or fur (to some degree), and breathing air.
Turtles, on the other hand, are reptiles, related to lizards, snakes, alligators and the now extinct dinosaurs. Marine turtles also evolved from land based ancestors to a more aquatic lifestyle taking advantage of the resources of the marine environment. Hence, turtles breathe air, and retain another fundamental land-based characteristic of their life history: adult females return to land to nest and lay eggs for reproduction. Unlike mammals, most marine turtles are ectothermic, or cold-blooded, relying on external sources of heat rather than an internal mechanism to maintain body temperature and have their characteristic rigid shell for protection from predators. The leatherback turtle is unique among marine turtles in that it can regulate maintain its body temperature internally and has a shell comprised of interlocking bones covered with a think, leathery skin, rather than a hard, bony shell.
Many species of marine mammals, turtles, and other protected species have endured human exploitation for centuries and are currently exposed to threats from man’s activities and their impacts. The NOAA Fisheries PSSP promotes science activities geared toward increased understanding, conservation, and recovery of these species.