Marine Mammal & Turtle Division

  • Cetacean Health and Life History Program

    Photo credit: Morgan Lynn. The Cetacean Health and Life History Program develops new tools for the assessment of marine mammals and contributes crucial data to NOAA’ s mandated research efforts. Read more...

  • Marine Mammal Spatial Habitat and Risk Program

    Photo credit: John Calambokidis. Marine Mammal Spatial Habitat and Risk Program iInvestigates effects of habitat variability and human activities on marine mammal populations to support conservation and management. Read more...

  • CA Current Marine Mammal Assessment Program

    Photo credit: Mark Lowry. The California Current Marine Mammal Assessment Program conducts a wide variety of cetacean and pinniped research in the Pacific Ocean. Read more...

  • ETP Cetacean Assessment Program

    Photo credit: Robert Pitman. The ETP Cetacean Assessment Program carries out research to assess the status of dolphin populations affected by the purse-seine fishery for yellowfin tuna in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Read more...

  • Marine Mammal Genetics Group

    Photo Montage by David Goodsell; photo credits: SWFSC. The Marine Mammal Genetics Group identifies population structure using primarily genetic data. Read more...

  • Marine Turtle Research Program

    Photo credit: Michael Jensen. The Marine Turtle Research Program focuses mainly on the leatherback and the eastern Pacific green turtle due to concerns over alarming and dramatic population declines in the last two decades. Read more...

PRD becomes MMTD – In an effort to provide greater clarity, within the agency, and to our external constituents and partners, with respect to what we do, the division has received approval to change our name. We are now “The Marine Mammal & Turtle Division”.


The Marine Mammal & Turtle Division (MMTD) of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center conducts research on marine mammals and turtles in all oceans of the world, with special focus on the eastern Pacific. Our major field research is conducted through two types of Research Vessel Surveys: Abundance and Ecosystem Assessment Surveys, and Process (question-based) Surveys and Aerial Surveys. We also conduct shore-based surveys and research from small boats. Our laboratory-based research focuses on molecular genetics, photogrammetry, stable isotopes, hormone assays, and passive acoustics.

Our Mandates

The Marine Mammal Protection Act mandates that we maintain populations at Optimum Sustainable Levels and as functioning elements of their ecosystem. The Endangered Species Act mandates that we prevent extinction and recover species. Both acts require that we investigate population structure, estimate population size and trends in abundance, identify and mitigate anthropogenic threats, and designate critical habitat. Our research is also guided by the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act, the management needs of NOAA and the U.S. delegations to a number of international agreements, and a variety of additional agreements and conventions. Because marine mammals and turtles are transboundary, our research is necessarily international in scope.

Our Mission

Our primary mission is to assess marine mammals and turtles relative to management objectives in U.S. waters, or oceans where the U.S. has a vested interest. The research feeding into our assessment science has four components: 1) abundance estimation and monitoring of abundance trends, 2) identification of units to conserve, 3) quantifying life history, condition, and health, and 4) understanding ecosystem state (structure and function). We also strive to identify and mitigate threats, support users of our data, and educate and build capacity. These elements combine to advance the science of management and conservation, our ultimate goal.