NOAA Fisheries denies an application to import 18 whales for public display
Following a public outcry, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that it has denied the Georgia Aquarium's request for a permit to import 18 beluga whales from Russia. NOAA Fisheries based the decision on requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
"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 Aquarium sought to import the whales from Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station on Russia's Black Sea Coast for public display at its facility in Atlanta and at partner facilities including SeaWorld of Florida, SeaWorld of Texas, SeaWorld of California and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. 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. The impact on the population by human activities such as hunting and fishing remains unknown. In addition, it was determined that five of the beluga whales were estimated to be approximately 1½ years old at their time of capture and were potentially still nursing and not yet independent.
Beluga whales are social animals that typically migrate, hunt and interact 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.