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"All whales, dolphins, and porpoises in the northeast region are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and most... are further protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)." The fin, humpback, and northern right whales are all listed as endangered species, with the right whale population at less than 300 individuals. The fin, humpback, northern right, and minke whales are great whales common to the northeast region and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Under the MMPA and the ESA, it is unlawful to "harass, hunt, capture, or kill" any of these marine mammals. Whale-watching is a popular recreational activity in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and throughout the Northeast Region. Watch vessels seek out the areas most highly populated with whales. Consequently, this has lead to an increase in the potential for whale harassment and injury. Over the past few years, NMFS has received complaints from the public accusing whale-watching, fishing, and pleasure craft vessels of harassing and injuring whales. Specifically, in 1997, a private citizen reported being aboard a whale-watching vessel when it hit a whale. Furthermore, in 1998, a whale-watching vessel struck two whales while returning to port. While there were no reported whale ship strikes by vessels engaged in whale-watching in 1999, there were three reports of harassment. This has led to voiced trepidation from those concerned with the whale-watching industry.



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