August 6, 2013—Victory! The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has denied a permit application to import 18 wild caught beluga whales from Russia's Okhotsk Sea. AWI has been working to challenge the permit application since August 2012, by demonstrating that this import could have a significant adverse impact on the stock of wild beluga whales, open the door to future removals, and allow for the import of belugas that were nursing at the time they were taken, in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). AWI commends NMFS for upholding the mission and purpose of the MMPA in denying this import permit. The decision will protect this species from further depletions by denying the U.S. market for such whales. To read more, view the Press Release.
On June 15, 2012 Georgia Aquarium applied for a permit to import 18 belugas who were captured from the Sea of Okhotsk, Russia, specifically for the Aquarium and its partners. They are slated to become part of Georgia Aquarium's breeding "inventory," with some distributed to partner aquariums, including Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, IL, and SeaWorld facilities in Orlando, FL, San Antonio, TX, and San Diego, CA.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits activities that result in unnecessary risk to the health and welfare of marine mammals. This import is both unnecessary and poses substantial risk to the health and welfare of these animals and the groups from which they were taken. Russian capture methods are notoriously inhumane, involving driving methods to herd the animals to shore, which causes panic and distress, physical harm, and even death. The animals will also be forced to endure a grueling journey from Russia to the United States, including a stopover with carrier and plane changes in Belgium. In total, the animals will have to survive over 30 hours in transit, involving multiple plane and truck rides and carrier changes. As for the beluga population from which these animals have been taken, it is still recovering from years of hunting; the removal of such a large number of animals from the same area may result in the disruption of social groups and the loss of important genetic material and learned behaviors passed down through generations.
United States public display facilities have not imported wild-caught belugas (or any other cetacean) for display since 1993, and the current situation is an abhorrently regressive step for animal welfare in this country. As the entertainment industry continues its attempts to breed belugas in captivity, the population of captive belugas in the United States has actually declined—from 40 animals in the early 1990s to 35 today. This is a clear indication that the stress of capture and transport along with confinement are not conducive to thriving and reproducing.
Animals deprived of their pod mates and natural environment often exhibit aberrant behaviors. Captive belugas suffer from stress, poor health, and increased mortality. Wild belugas can expect to live up to about 60 years—a lifespan never achieved by any captive beluga. Other countries, including Chile, Costa Rica and most recently Switzerland, are recognizing that belugas and other cetaceans do not belong in captivity, especially as trained performers, and are banning the practice. In an era when wild cetaceans are celebrated, Georgia Aquarium and its partners are way behind the curve to even consider this capture and import.
Georgia Aquarium justifies the import as an important contribution to "marine conservation and public education," yet there is no accepted evidence to show that the experience of seeing captive animals exhibited for entertainment has any educational benefit.
Further, there are currently at least 40 belugas living in reported sub-standard conditions at a facility in Niagara Falls, Ontario. If Georgia Aquarium and its partners were truly concerned about marine conservation, they would urge the rehabilitation and release of the wild Russian belugas, while working to improve conditions for the animals held in Canada. To obtain and transport 18 wild animals from half-way around the world, when several dozen are languishing just over the border and could perhaps be taken by Georgia Aquarium and its partners, is ludicrous, and clearly not conservation.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Please urge Georgia Aquarium to abandon its plans to import these animals. Tell it that beluga whales should not be puppets of an entertainment industry profiting under the guise of conservation and education, while ripping the animals away from their families, homes, and freedom. Importing 18 wild-caught beluga whales captured from a recovering population from Russia is not the way to promote conservation and education. Write, email or call:
Mr. David Kimmel
President and Chief Operating Officer
225 Baker Street, NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30313
- To please withdraw the permit request to import 18 beluga whales that Georgia Aquarium submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service on June 15, 2012.
- That you refuse to patronize Georgia Aquarium or any of its partner aquariums until this action is taken.
- That brutally removing these animals from the wild for the purpose of public display is archaic and that captive beluga whales suffer from stress, poor health, and increased mortality.
- That conservation is about protecting species and their habitats in the wild, not capturing them for public display.
You can also post polite comments on Georgia Aquarium's facebook page, http://facebook.com/GeorgiaAquarium, or share your message with them on twitter using their handle, @GeorgiaAquarium, and the hashtag #CaptivityKills.
We ask further that you do not visit Georgia Aquarium or any aquarium or zoo that profits from captive whales or dolphins.
Please share this AWI eAlert with family, friends and coworkers, and encourage them to contact Georgia Aquarium too. As always, thank you for your help; your action does make a difference! Please let us know of any responses you receive from Georgia Aquarium so that we can do any necessary follow-up.