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 would have been divided between the Georgia Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and the three SeaWorld parks in Florida, Texas, and California, ultimately failed to meet “several” MMPA criteria. 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.
The public pushback against the import permit has been formidable, with most of the 9,000 opinions submitted during a public comment period last year expressing dissent. “The comments that were most helpful to our decision-making process addressed the specific MMPA and regulatory criteria that we must use to make a decision and discussed why the commenter felt the application did or did not meet them,” the NOAA statement said.
David has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, “Death at Seaworld,” was published in 2012. Full Bio