Walter Mencken 1 p.m., Aug. 2
Feds deny import permits for beluga whales for SeaWorld
San Diego marine park one of five U.S. facilities that sought to obtain rare beluga whales from Russia
The U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service has turned down an application by the Georgia Aquarium and four associated marine exhibit facilities, including SeaWorld of Florida, SeaWorld of Texas, SeaWorld of California and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, to obtain and import 18 beluga whales from Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station on Russia’s Black Sea Coast for public display.
According to a news release posted on NOAA's website:
The Marine Mammal Protection Act ...allows marine mammals to be removed from the wild or imported for the purpose of public display, and provides a process for issuing permits. This is the first application for a permit to import recently caught wild marine mammals 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,” said Sam Rauch, acting assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries.
“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 whales were captured from Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk between 2006 and 2011. There is little reliable scientific information about the size and population trend of the Sakhalin-Amur stock of belugas, and the impact on the stock of other human activities, such as hunting and fishing, is unknown.
Beluga whales are social animals that typically migrate, hunt and interact together 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, habitat destruction and entanglement in fishing gear.
The San Diego SeaWorld operation has drawn criticism and pickets by protestors who accuse it of abusing its captive whales. The park denies the charges and says it abides by all federal laws and regulations.
Environmentalists responded positively to the National Marine Fisheries Service move to deny the beluga import permits.
“NMFS has a long history of simply rubber-stamping any proposals for imports, exports, or moving around whales and dolphins in captivity, at the behest of the billion dollar captive industry. Those days may be over for the industry. The jig is up,” Ric O’Barry, Director of Earth Island’s Dolphin Project, said in a statement.
“The public is finally speaking out against this abusive industry, and NMFS is finally paying attention to public opinion.”
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