Marine mammals have been protected in the United States since 1972 under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The U.S. Pacific Islands and surrounding waters are critical habit for many marine mammal species including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and northern Pacific humpback whales, which migrate to the waters around Hawaii during the winter to calf and breed. Pacific Marine Mammal Health Assessments (PMMHA) allow monitoring and sample collection from individual living animals in U.S. Pacific Islands marine mammal populations. PMMHA collaborations are diverse including field health evaluations and rehabilitation of endangered Hawaiian monk seals; free swimming cetacean population monitoring through dart biopsy sampling; and following long-term personalized health in bottlenose dolphins under human care.
Pacific Marine Mammal Health Assessments (PMMHA), which began in Fall 2010, are an expansion of NIST marine mammal health assessment collaborations that began in 2002 with bottlenose dolphin wild populations. NIST has a history of involvement in marine mammal health assessment related work sponsored by NOAA National Marine Fishery Service, Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, and Dolphin Quest including, (1) support for the banking of marine mammal tissues in the Marine Environmental Specimen Bank (ESB), (2) designing standardized sample collection protocols, (3) providing technical assistance in the field, (4) development of standard reference and control materials (SRMs), (5) implementation of inter-laboratory comparison exercises using marine mammal tissues, and (6) analyzing samples for trace elements and organic pollutants. PMMHA samples that are archived in the Marine ESB are collected and processed according to detailed standardized protocols, which makes Marine ESB samples specifically useful for analytical analysis of organic contaminants, trace elements, and other chemical analytes. Since the Marine ESB is a long-term storage repository, PMMHA samples are available for research questions involving emerging contaminants or health concerns that arise in the future.