Obama Administration Nixes Importation of Beluga Whales

beluga-Pt-Defiance_robin_angliss_300The Obama administration has just done an unreservedly good thing: turned down Georgia Aquarium’s application to import 18 beluga whales from Russia for public display at its own facility in Atlanta and at partner facilities, including SeaWorld of Florida, SeaWorld of Texas, SeaWorld of California and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that importing these animals would contravene the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and that beluga populations had to be protected from the continued depletion of live captures. The rejection gave the following reasons:

  • NOAA Fisheries is unable to determine whether or not the proposed importation, by itself or in combination with other activities, would have a significant adverse impact on the Sakhalin-Amur beluga whale stock, the population that these whales are taken from;
  • NOAA Fisheries determined that the requested import will likely result in the taking of marine mammals beyond those authorized by the permit [i.e. it would encourage further live capture hunts];
  • NOAA Fisheries determined that five of the beluga whales proposed for import, estimated to be approximately 1½ years old at the time of capture, were potentially still nursing and not yet independent.

Beluga whales are highly social, playful animals that live and migrate in groups of ten to several hundred in the arctic and subarctic waters of Russia, Greenland and North America. Beluga whales face a number of threats including ship strikes, pollution, noise, habitat destruction and entanglement in fishing gear — in addition to live capture. Beluga hunts, like orca hunts, drive the whales into nets and rely on mother-child bonds to capture entire pods. In captivity belugas, like orcas, have greatly reduced lifespans.

Had this importation permit been issued, it would have been seen as a U.S endorsement of the cruel and unsustainable live capture industry. This decision effectively discourages the industry by closing off the U.S. as a market.

Btw…NOAA received close to TEN THOUSAND letters and emails during its 60-day public hearing period on this proposed beluga whale importation last year. If you were one of those who wrote in…see what you did. If you were not…see what you can do next time :-)