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Ocean Disposal of Marine Mammal Carcasses

EPA has issued a general permit under the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) to authorize the transport and disposal of marine mammal carcasses in ocean waters under specified conditions. The term “marine mammal” means any mammal that is morphologically adapted to the marine environment, including sea otters and members of the orders Sirenia (e.g., manatee, dugong), Pinnipedia (e.g., seal, sea lion), and Cetacea (e.g., dolphin, whale) or primarily inhabits the marine environment (e.g., polar bears, sea otters).

The MPRSA general permit does not require that marine mammal carcasses be disposed of in ocean waters; it merely authorizes ocean disposal when there is a need for such disposals. The general permit was published in the Federal Register on December 6, 2016 [81 FR 87928](6 pp, 221 KB, About PDF).You may need a PDF reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA’s About PDF page to learn more.

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Why is this permit needed?

Humpback whale carcass being towed out for dumping.Photo Credit: Valdez Star/Brielle SchaefferTransportation of any material, including dead animals, for the purpose of disposal in ocean waters requires a permit under the MPRSA. In the past, EPA issued ocean dumping permits for disposal of marine mammal carcasses in ocean waters on an emergency basis. This general permit streamlines MPRSA authorization and reduces burdens associated with case-by-case permitting. 

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What are the potential impacts of ocean disposal?

Ocean disposal of marine mammal carcasses is not anticipated to have any effect on human health, fisheries resources, or marine ecosystems. This conclusion is based upon scientific studies of the decomposition of large carcasses on the seafloor.

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Who is eligible under the permit for ocean disposal of marine mammal carcasses?

The general permit authorization to transport from the United States and dispose of a marine mammal carcass in ocean waters is available only for (1) any officer, employee, agent, department, agency, or instrumentality of federal, state, tribal, or local unit of government, as well as any Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program Stranding Agreement Holder (see Section A of permit), and (2) any Alaskan Native, who already may take a marine mammal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act (see Section B of permit).

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Questions regarding Section A of the permit

Does this general permit require the disposal of marine mammal carcasses in ocean waters?

The general permit does not require disposal in ocean waters; it merely authorizes ocean disposal when there is a need for such disposal.

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Can any marine mammal be disposed of at sea?

There may be circumstances where the disposal of a marine mammal carcass at sea is not permitted.  For example, if a large whale has been chemically euthanized, disposal at sea would not be appropriate if the chemicals used to euthanize the whale represent a threat to the marine environment. Similarly, if marine mammal carcasses are heavily oiled, or covered with some other chemical contaminant, land-based disposal options, such as incineration, may be more appropriate.  Coordination with EPA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will include assessing whether there are any potential contamination concerns that might preclude a marine mammal carcass from being disposed of at sea.

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Does EPA have a preferred disposal method for marine mammal carcasses?

EPA does not recommend a specific disposal method.  Factors such as carcass size, carcass location, number of carcasses, and availability of local resources impact the practicability of disposal options. Consequently, selection of a preferred disposal method is situationally dependent and made on a case-by-case basis. If you select ocean disposal for the carcass, rather than a land-based disposal option, please contact the appropriate EPA Regional contact as soon as possible.

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If I have determined that ocean disposal is the best option, how do I identify an appropriate disposal location and receive concurrence from EPA on the selection of a location?

To expedite receiving concurrence on the selection of a disposal location, please contact the appropriate EPA Regional contact as soon as possible. EPA may have already identified acceptable ocean disposal locations for marine mammal carcasses close to the location of the carcass(es), or EPA can help you identify an appropriate disposal location.

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Does a marine mammal carcass need to be sunk once it has been transported to the disposal location?

The decision of releasing or sinking a carcass at the disposal location will be situationally dependent and is based upon a number of factors.  If EPA believes there is significant potential for undesirable outcomes (e.g., creating a hazard to navigation) to arise from the release of a floating carcass, it may be necessary to sink the carcass. 

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What type of materials can be used to sink a marine mammal carcass?

When considering your options for materials, please be aware that (1) materials described in 40 CFR Section 227.5 and 227.6 may not be used, and (2) materials should not have external features extending away or outward such that there is a snagging hazard to trawl line, nets or anchors.  Please contact the appropriate EPA Regional contact as soon as possible prior to ocean disposal for either their assistance in identifying appropriate materials or their approval of materials that you have identified.

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Do I need to send a report to EPA if I dispose of marine mammal carcasses in ocean waters?

Yes.  The permittee must submit a report on the ocean disposal activities authorized by this general permit to the applicable EPA Regional Office within 30 days after carcass disposal.  Information that needs to be included in the report is described in the general permit. Permittees (government entities and Stranding Agreement Holders) may use the Section A Reporting Form to submit reports to the applicable EPA Regional Office.

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Who can I contact for more information on Section A of the Permit?

For more questions about ocean disposal of marine mammal carcasses, please contact the appropriate EPA Regional contact. Additional contacts at NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard are included on this list.

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Questions regarding Section B of the permit (requirements for any Alaskan Native, who already may take a marine mammal under the MMPA and ESA)

Does this general permit require the disposal of marine mammal carcasses in ocean waters?

The general permit does not require disposal in ocean waters; it merely authorizes ocean disposal when there is a need for such disposal.

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Do I need to obtain approval from EPA on the selection of a disposal location if I dispose of marine mammal carcasses in ocean waters?

No.  Any Alaskan Native engaged in subsistence uses of marine mammals may transport a carcass to a site offshore where, based on available information, which may include local or traditional knowledge, currents and winds are not expected to return the carcass to shore and the carcass is not expected to pose a hazard to navigation.

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Do I need to send a report to EPA if I dispose of marine mammal carcasses in ocean waters?

Yes.  The permittee must submit a report on all disposal activities authorized by this general permit that the permittee has conducted in the prior calendar year. Reports must be submitted to EPA Region 10 within 30 days of the end of the calendar year.  Information that needs to be included in the report is described in the general permit. Permittees (Alaskan Natives, who already may take a marine mammal under the MMPA and ESA) may use the Section B Reporting Form  to submit a report to EPA Region 10.

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Who can I contact for more information on Section B of the permit (requirements for any Alaskan Native, who already may take a marine mammal under the MMPA and ESA)?

Chris Meade
Environmental Protection Agency – Region 10
Juneau Field Office
PO Box 20370
Juneau, Alaska 99802
 
Phone:  907-586-7622

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