Georgia Aquarium Wants 18 Russian Whales

The Georgia Aquarium filed a lawsuit against The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine and Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) for denying them the permit they need in order to obtain the 18 beluga whales from Russia. While NOAA Fisheries is concerned with the aquarium’s ability to successfully raise and provide for these animals, the Georgia Aquarium claims that their capture would only help them.

Game of Permits

In 1972, the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed, effectively banning all hunting and capturing of marine mammals by US citizens. Since it was first implemented, the bill has received numerous amendments that made some exceptions to the rule, including allowing some native populations to hunt marine mammals, as well as the ability for some to apply for a permit to capture marine life in order to be to be put on public display—as long as they meet certain requirements.

NOAA decided that they did not meet these requirements in 2013, when they first denied the Georgia Aquarium a permit to import the 18 beluga whales. Claiming their facilities and methods to be more than satisfactory, the aquarium filed a lawsuit against the federal agency. Both sides have ultimately asked for the case to be reviewed by a federal judge—which it will be, this upcoming Friday. If the Georgia Aquarium eventually gets what it wants, then the imported whales would be completely owned by its facilities, while some will be sold to other aquariums for breeding.

The Prosecution

By introducing new beluga whales to those already in captivity, officials at the aquarium claim that the imported whales would contribute to the conservation of their species as a whole. There are 29 beluga whales that are being bred in captivity right now according to NOAA—a small group that according to the Georgia Aquarium is in much need of increased genetic diversity, as the captive population contains what the aquarium calls an “inopportune” variety of genders and ages for conservation and breeding.

Scott Higley, a spokesman for the Georgia Aquarium, predicts that if the permit is not acquired, and new beluga DNA isn’t added to the gene pool, the beluga whale population in captivity might eventually die out entirely in North America.

The Defense

NOAA claims that The Georgia Aquarium does not in fact cooperate with the legislation in place. They claim that the aquarium wasn’t exactly assuring as to how the import of the 18 beluga whales would affect the ecosystem of the place in which they’re captured—in the Sea of Okhotsk, off the coast of northern Russia—and are concerned that the aquarium would continue to capture increasingly young whales in the future that would still be dependent on their mothers to survive, if they win the right to a permit.

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