The United States Marine Mammal Program was established in 1969 by the United States National Committee of the International Biological Program (USNC/IBP) and the International Marine Mammal Working Group of the International Biological Program.
In 1964 the International Council of Scientific Unions, a nongovernmental organization, created a Special Committee for the International Biological Program (SCIBP) whose theme was the "Biological Basis for Productivity and Human Welfare." Programs focusing on this theme were developed by SCIBP and were operational from 1967 to 1972, with a later extension to 1974. Participation by the United States government in the International Biological Program began in 1965 when a National Academy of Sciences' ad hoc committee recommended the formation of USNC/IBP.
USNC/IBP's activities were coordinated by the National Science Foundation, which also provided most of the funding. Support funds were also contributed by the Atomic Energy Commission, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Smithsonian Institution, and private industry. In 1967, USNC/IBP began a study of marine mammals that finally resulted in the formation of the United States Marine Mammal Program.
The United States Marine Mammal Program was directed by an eleven-member Marine Mammal Council (MMC) appointed by the United States Marine Mammal Working Group. The Council, in turn, named a four-member Executive Committee to oversee daily operations; an office was set up in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. Members of the Executive Committee included Program Director G. Carleton Ray of The Johns Hopkins University; Kenneth S. Norris of The Oceanic Institute, Hawaii; Charles O. Handley of the Smithsonian Institution; and William E. Schevill of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The program director also served as a member of the International Marine Mammal Working Group. As overseer of the Program, the MMC served as a catalyst for marine mammal studies by aiding in developing a Marine Mammal Study Center at the Smithsonian for the study of fossil and recent mammals; publishing The Marine Mammal Newsletter; sponsoring marine mammal conferences; cooperating with other phases of the United States International Biological Program; and coordinating existing and new research through its Integrated Research Program. By providing information needed for the rational international management of marine mammals, the Marine Mammal Program emphasized the opportunity for ecological studies rather than those having an economic or political basis.
Other related activities of the Council included assisting and advising the United States Congress on marine mammal affairs following the introduction of bills and resolutions. Several Council members also testified before Congressional committee hearings.
On June 30, 1974, the United States' participation in the International Biological Program was officially terminated when funding from the National Science Foundation ceased.