Marine Mammal Harassment

Feeding or Harassing Marine Mammals in the Wild is Illegal and Harmful to the Animals

What can you do if you see a marine mammal violation?

To report marine mammal violations, such as people feeding, attempting to feed, or harassing marine mammals in the wild, please call the national NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline: 1-800-853-1964. Information may be left anonymously.

Why is it illegal to feed, attempt to feed or harass marine mammals in the wild?

Feeding, attempting to feed, and harassment of marine mammals in the wild by anyone is prohibited by regulations enacted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

It is harmful to the animals in the following ways:

  • It causes marine mammals to lose their natural wariness of humans or boats and become conditioned to receiving handouts and associate people with food.
  • It changes their natural behaviors, including feeding and migration activities, and decreases their willingness to forage for food on their own. They may also begin to take bait/catch from fishing gear. These changed behaviors may be passed on to their young and other members of their social groups and increases their risk of injury from boats, entanglement in fishing gear, and intentional harm by people frustrated with the behavioral changes.
  • Some of the items that are fed to marine mammals may be contaminated (old or spoiled) or not food at all. Feeding marine mammals inappropriate food, non-food items, or contaminated food jeopardizes their health.
  • Marine mammals sometimes become aggressive when seeking food, and are known to bite or injure people when teased or expecting food.

How is "harassment" defined under the MMPA?

Harassment means any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance that has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment); or that has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering, but does not have the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level B harassment).

Does NOAA Fisheries have a policy about interacting with marine mammals in the wild?

NOAA Fisheries  maintains a policy on human interactions with wild marine mammals that states:

  • Interacting with wild marine mammals should not be attempted, and viewing marine mammals must be conducted in a manner that does not harass the animals.
  • NOAA Fisheries Service does not support, condone, approve, or authorize activities that involve closely approaching, interacting, or attempting to interact with whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, or sea lions in the wild. This includes attempting to swim with, pet, touch, or elicit a reaction from the animals.

How can people responsibly view marine mammals in the wild?

You can find recommendations on proper viewing of marine mammals in our Marine Mammal Viewing Guide. For more details, please see the NOAA Fisheries' Responsible Marine Wildlife Viewing, as well as 50 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 216.3 and50 CFR 224.103.

What can happen to those prosecuted for violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act?

NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement also works closely with other state and federal law enforcement agencies to enforce federal regulations and investigate violations when they occur.

If prosecuted for violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act, civil or criminal penalties could include:

  • Civil penalties up to $11,000
  • Up to 1 year in prison plus criminal fines
  • Forfeiture of the vessel involved, including penalties for that vessel up to $25,000

Examples include: