part of a whale rises out of the water with a boat in the distance
A humpback whale dives with the sanctuary research vessel in the distance. Photo: NOAA (NOAA Fisheries Research Permit #14245)

A cooperative mix of officers from federal and state agencies enforce sanctuary rules and regulations, along with additional marine-related resource protection, safety and national security laws. Primary enforcement responsibility rests with the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement (OLE). Policing sanctuary waters can be a daunting task due to the size of the sanctuary (842-square-miles) and the large number of vessels that transit the area.

NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement

NOAA office of law enforcement logo

A NOAA enforcement officer is assigned to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and is based at the sanctuary's Scituate campus. The Office of Law Enforcement (OLE), administered under NOAA Fisheries, enforces more than 40 laws designed to protect marine life and their habitat. Enforcement encompasses both domestic laws and international treaty requirements to ensure that global marine resources are available for future generations. NOAA's OLE special agents and enforcement officers serve as the primary policing body to enforce sanctuary regulations and to investigate violations of other laws within sanctuary boundaries.

Key laws enforced by OLE

U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), First District

US Coast Guard First District logo

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is located within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard's (USCG) First District headquartered in Boston. One of the armed services, the USCG provides on-the-water and aerial surveillance related to maritime safety (including search and rescue), homeland security, national defense, and environmental protection (such as fishing, marine mammal harassment, and marine pollution regulations). The USCG also manages the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which has become an integral research tool for the sanctuary with application in the shipping Corporate Responsibility education project.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary, First District Northern Region provides free vessel safety checks for the boating public and has helped the sanctuary disseminate information about safe boating around whales.

Massachusetts Environmental Police

Massachusetts Environmental Police logo

The Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) are cross-deputized to enforce Federal environmental laws and sanctuary regulations within the boundaries of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary even though the entirety of the sanctuary is located outside of Commonwealth waters. A local office of the MEP is co-located within the sanctuary's headquarters in Scituate, Mass.