The research program awards grants based on proposals submitted in response to general Requests for Proposals (RFPs), unsolicited proposals, and specific research topics identified by the Commission. The amount of funds available varies from year to year, depending on the level of congressional appropriations. Since it was established in 1972, the Commission has supported more than 1,000 projects. Final reports of most Commission-sponsored studies are available from the National Technical Information Service or directly from the Commission, and many studies have led to publication in books or scientific journals.
The Commission encourages the submission of proposals for innovative and well-designed projects that address important conservation issues for marine mammals or marine ecosystems but that may be unlikely to obtain funding through traditional research agencies. On occasion, the Commission provides start-up or seed money for promising research projects that, once proven feasible, may be supported later by other federal agencies. The Commission encourages applicants to obtain additional support by collaborating with, or soliciting funds from, other institutions, organizations, or agencies.