Lawsuit Filed to Challenge National Marine Fisheries Service’s Decision that it Lacks the Legal Authority to Obtain Captive Orcas’ Necropsy Reports from Marine Mammal Parks

Today, on behalf of several scientists, marine mammal advocates, and animal welfare organizations, we filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (“NMFS”) decision that it lacks any legal authority under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (“MMPA”) over MMPA permit conditions requiring marine parks and zoos to submit necropsy and clinical history information to the agency upon the death of the marine mammal held under the permit. MMPA permits authorizing the take and importation of marine mammals for captive display that were issued prior to the statute’s amendment in 1994 routinely included provisions requiring the holder to submit necropsy and clinical history information to NMFS within thirty days of the covered animal’s death. The medical and veterinary information contained in the reports is vital not only to understanding the impact of captivity on orcas’ welfare, but also to informing the rescue and treatment of injured or ill marine mammals in the wild. Accordingly, after the recent deaths of three orcas held at SeaWorld parks pursuant to pre-1994 MMPA permits—Tilikum, Kasatka, and Kyara—leading marine mammal scientists and advocacy organizations requested that NMFS exercise its authority under the permits to obtain these important records. In response, NMFS took the position that the legal validity of the permit conditions at issue was extinguished by the 1994 amendments to the MMPA, a position that is at odds with the language of the MMPA, the legislative history underlying the 1994 amendments, and the overriding purpose of the statute to protect marine mammals. Moreover, NMFS has never offered any legal explanation for its determination, in violation of its obligations under the Administrative Procedure Act. A copy of the Complaint can be found here, and a press release on the lawsuit can be found here.