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Pacific Marine Mammal Health Assessments (PMMHA)


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 NIST Biorepository, (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 NIST Biorepository is a long-term storage repository, PMMHA samples are available for research questions involving emerging contaminants or health concerns that arise in the future.


PMMHA Actvities
Credit: Colleen Bryan

Goals of PMMHA

  • Develop standardized methods and protocols for collecting, processing, and archiving samples obtained from live animals and teach collaborating researchers protocols.
  • Assess environmental and anthropogenic stressors along with metabolic changes that may impact health of individuals and U.S. Pacific Islands marine mammal populations.  

PMMHA Activities

  • Bottlenose Dolphins Under Human Care Health Assessment
  • Hawaiian Monk Seal Health and Disease Studies
  • Hawaiian Cetacean Dart Biopsy Archival and Chemical Analysis
  • Hawaiian Monk Seal Rehabilitation
Created September 18, 2017, Updated February 12, 2020