News! The Marine Mammal and Turtle Division joins the Mexican Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources on a joint expedition to estimate the current abundance of the vaquita, the world's most endangered marine mammal. For weekly updates, photos and videos from the field and more, click on Vaquita Expedition 2015.
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.
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 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.