Buying, Finding or Possessing Marine Mammal Parts and Products
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National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Regional Office

Steller sea lions, photo: Dave Csepp

Purchasing, Finding or Possessing Marine Mammal Skins, Muktuk, Baleen, and Bones

Questions and Answers about Mammal Parts and Products

Can I legally buy baleen from a street vendor? Are there any restrictions on what I can do with it?

Yes, baleen (normally this is from the endangered bowhead whale) may be legally sold by Alaska Natives as Traditional Native Handicraft under both the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). The baleen must be cleaned and polished to qualify as handicraft. Once purchased, bowhead baleen may be transported out of State, but may not be subsequently sold or taken outside of the United States.

I have found some marine mammal bones, can I legally retain these for personal use?

Maybe. Alaska Natives are exempted under the MMPA and ESA, and may possess such items and convert them to handicraft. Non-Natives may retain these parts provided they do not have remaining “soft” tissues attached and that they are not from a threatened or endangered species. The MMPA provides for NOAA Fisheries to issue certificates which allow non-endangered marine mammal parts, once registered, to be retained. Stranded marine mammals also provide important scientific information; therefore you should contact NOAA Fisheries prior to collecting these parts to ensure their scientific value is not lost, for assistance in determining whether the parts are from an threatened or endangered species, and to legally register the parts. Contact NOAA Fisheries in Juneau at (907) 586- 7225, or Anchorage: (907) 271-1823.

Can marine mammal bones or skeletons be collected by public institutions or museums for display and/or education?

Yes. Again, NOAA Fisheries can register such parts and provide certification for the bones to be retained for these purposes. Contact NOAA Fisheries in Juneau at (907) 586- 7225, or Anchorage: (907) 271-1823.

How do I know if ivory artwork is genuine?

Artwork purchased from gift stores and major outlets usually has a label identifying it as Authentic Alaska Native handicraft. Buyers should be cautious of purchasing handicraft from marine mammals parts which are not so marked.

Can I buy traditional Native artwork in Alaska and enter Canada with it?

Buyers should not enter Canada with purchased marine mammal ivory or bone artwork, such items will likely be confiscated by Canadian authorities.

I have marine mammal parts which pre-date the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Are there any restrictions on what I can do with these?

If you can establish the parts were obtained before 1972, neither the MMPA nor ESA apply, and there are no legal restrictions or prohibitions on what you may do with these. However, the burden of proof lies with you, and you may be asked to produce evidence of the history of such parts in the event you wish to sell them. This prior status may be established by submitting an affidavit to NOAA Fisheries (50 CFR 216.14). Fossilized ivory is assumed to predate both Acts; no prohibitions apply.

I am not an Alaska Native; can I buy some muktuk to eat?

Maybe. It is unlawful to sell or purchase edible portions of Cook Inlet beluga whales, and it is unlawful to sell meat and edible products of bowhead whales taken in an aboriginal subsistence hunt. Otherwise, edible portions of threatened or endangered species may only be sold by Alaska Natives in Native towns or villages for Native consumption. Additionally, edible portions of marine mammals (other than Cook Inlet beluga whales, bowhead whales, and other threatened and endangered species) may be sold either A) for Native consumption or B) to non Natives if sold in Native towns and villages in Alaska (Native villages include Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau). Once purchased, these products do not have to be consumed in the Native village or town.

I am attending a Native potlatch celebration; can I eat muktuk if I am a non-Native?

Yes. Provided it was legally harvested, edible portions from a marine mammal may be consumed by both Natives and non Natives.

I live in a remote subsistence village in Alaska. I am non-Native. Can I participate in marine mammal hunting?

No, unless you are regarded as a member of an Alaska Native village or group, and your father or mother were also regarded as a member of that village or group. Marriage to an Alaska Native does not convey the right to harvest marine mammals under the Native exemption to these Acts.

Can I take a parka or other clothing made from marine mammal skins outside of the United States?

It depends. The Marine Mammal Protection Act provides that non-endangered marine mammal parts and handicrafts, excluding edible portions, may be both imported and exported by Native peoples of Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Greenland for cultural exchange purposes. So if you are an Alaska Native, you may wear a parka made of seal skins when traveling to these countries as part of a cultural exchange. For all other circumstances and before leaving the United States, please check with the U.S. Customs Service and the customs department of the foreign country you will be entering for information pertaining to this import.

I am an Alaska Native. Do I need to register or require a license to harvest marine mammals? What marine mammals can I harvest?

Provided you are at least one-quarter Alaska Native by blood, no authorization from the Federal Government is needed to harvest most marine mammals for subsistence. Tribal government authorities should be contacted before hunting in any area of the State of Alaska. The Cook Inlet beluga whale may only be hunted under an agreement between NOAA Fisheries and an Alaska Native Organization. Contact NOAA Fisheries Anchorage at (907) 271-5006 for information on these whales. Large whales (such as bowheads, gray, and humpbacks) are regulated under international agreements and may not be hunted unless specific quotas have been set by the International Whaling Commission.