Georgia Aquarium Applies For Permit To Import Wild-Captured Belugas Into The US
In a step that will most likely prove one of the most contentious permit requests in the last twenty years for the importation of cetaceans into the United States for public display, the Georgia Aquarium, representing a breeding consortium of five other public display facilities including the three SeaWorld parks and the Shedd and Mystic Aquariums, has filed an official permit request to import 18 wild-captured belugas over the course of five years. The Georgia Aquarium will receive 6 of these belugas, and the rest will go to other US facilities.
This request is extremely significant for a number of reasons. There have been no imports of deliberately captured cetaceans for US facilities since 1993. Imports of wild-caught cetaceans into the US that have occurred have either been “rescues” from inadequate facilities, resulted from strandings, or were imported after decades in captive facilities elsewhere. This permit request, and the Russian beluga population assessment research that supports it, represents the direct commissioning and underwriting by US facilities for these captures from the wild.
This permit request is a significant departure from more recent attempts by captive facilities to paint their captive populations as self-sustaining, and assembled and maintained without collection from the wild. In responding to criticism regarding the development of its dolphin program, Dolphin Tales, in 2011, the Georgia Aquarium highlighted the fact that none of the dolphins were taken or sourced from the wild, but were all captive born. In addition, all but two of the belugas were captured recently in 2010 and 2011, and half of them were under the age of three when captured. Five belugas were less than two, indicating they potentially were not even yet weaned from their mothers when they were captured.
Now, the Georgia Aquarium and the other US facilities involved, risk harsh criticism from the animal welfare and conservation community. As they step backward towards sourcing their animals from the wild, other aquaria are making progressive decisions not to obtain animals in their facilities from the wild. Ocean Park Hong Kong recently made a bold decision not to import belugas captured from Russia into its new Polar Adventure exhibit, and went a step further to decline the import of even captive-born belugas into its facility.
The IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group indicates that removal of live cetaceans from the wild, for captive display and/or research, is equivalent to incidental or deliberate killing, as the animals are no longer available to help maintain their natural populations. And because the ‘breeding’ operations of Sea World have never resulted in the return of animals and genetic material back to the wild to aid in the conservation of these species, every importation of a wild-caught cetacean for ‘breeding’ purposes should be viewed as a direct take.
Similar to whaling, directed removals of whales and dolphins for captivity equates to the lethal killing of these animals, as they are no longer available to help sustain the social cohesion and propagation of wild populations. In addition, removal for captivity represents a different form of death for these animals—a permanent life of sensory, social and physical deprivation in concrete pools.
There have been no captures of wild dolphins in US waters since 1993, mainly because of public pressure and opposition. According to figures from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), over 2,300 bottlenose dolphins were captured for display purposes between 1972 and 1993 in U.S. waters, primarily from the Gulf of Mexico. NMFS called for a voluntary moratorium in 1989 for the capture of bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S. Atlantic coast, due to a lack of information about dolphin populations.
The last attempt in the US to import wild-captured cetaceans deliberately for US facilities occurred in 1993 when the Indianapolis Zoo and Marine World Africa USA attempted to import pseudorcas (false killer whales) from Japan and failed when it became apparent that the animals had been captured in the dolphin drive fishery. The last captures from the wild in US waters also occurred in 1993 when the Shedd Aquarium captured Pacific white-sided dolphins for its display off the coast of California. Captures are violent, and may cause distress, physical harm, and even death to not only those animals captured, but for the ones left behind.
WDCS is gearing up for the fight of its life in opposing these imports into the US, and we will need your help! Stay tuned for more actions as we respond to the permit application, engage with authorities, and seek your help in letting the world know that you will not tolerate captivity, or the destruction of beluga families in the wild.
Check back soon for actions that you can take to help stop these imports! We are counting on each and every one of you to help us block this import and return these captured belugas to the wild or permanent sanctuary.
Related programme links:Captivity