Activists Win Major Battle; Block Import of 18 Beluga Whales

FROM: TakePart.com – For full story, please click here

In a move that surprised and delighted anti-captivity activists, the U.S. government on Tuesday denied a permit to the Georgia Aquarium, which also included requests from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and SeaWorld, to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia.

It was a blow to the captive display industry and, many observers say, emblematic of a turning tide in public and governmental attitudes toward keeping such intelligent, social creatures in tanks for human enjoyment.

“Following a number of public engagement efforts, NOAA Fisheries today announced it is denying the Georgia Aquarium’s request for a permit,” the agency announced in a written statement. It based the move on “the requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).”

Limited importation of some wild-captured marine mammals for public display is permitted under the MMPA. But according to the government, this was the first request for import in more than 20 years.

“The Georgia Aquarium clearly worked hard to follow the required process and submit a thorough application, and we appreciate their patience and cooperation as we carefully considered this case,” the statement from NOAA went on to say. “However, under the strict criteria of the law, we were unable to determine if the import of these belugas, combined with the active capture operation in Russia and other human activities, would have an adverse impact on this stock of wild beluga whales.”

The application to import the whales, which TakePart reported on last October and ultimately failed to meet “several” MMPA criteria, would have been divided between the Georgia Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and the three SeaWorld parks in Florida, Texas, and California. The government ruled:

  • We determined that the import permit will likely have a significant adverse impact on the species or stock.
  • We determined that the requested import will likely result in the taking of marine mammals beyond those authorized by the permit.
  • We determined that five of the beluga whales proposed for import, estimated to be approximately 1.5 years old at the time of capture, were potentially still nursing and not yet independent.

About David Kirby

DAVID KIRBY is the author of 'Evidence of Harm,' which was a New York Times bestseller, winner of the 2005 Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) award for best book, and a finalist for the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, and 'Animal Factory,' an acclaimed investigation into the environmental impact of factory farms which NPR compared to Upton Sinclair’s classic work 'The Jungle.' His latest book, 'Death at SeaWorld,' was previewed by Library Journal, which wrote: “Lives are at stake here, and Kirby can be trusted to tell the story, having won a passel of awards for his investigate work.” Booklist called the book “gripping” and “hard to put down.”
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