AboutZoos, Since 2008


Geor­gia Aquar­ium stops tak­ing whales & dol­phins from the wild

pub­lished 25 June 2016 | mod­i­fied 25 June 2016

State­ment of Geor­gia Aquarium

Georgia Aquarium Beluga import projectFol­low­ing an exten­sive and unfruit­ful twelve-​year effort to relo­cate 18 bel­uga whales from Rus­sia to the United States to cre­ate a sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tion of the bel­uga whales in human care in North Amer­ica, the lead­er­ship of Geor­gia Aquar­ium has decided that it will no longer seek to col­lect dol­phins or bel­uga whales from the wild except in res­cue situations.

This deci­sion was reached after the National Oceanic Atmos­pheric Admin­is­tra­tion (NOAA) denied the aquarium’s per­mit appli­ca­tion to import the bel­uga whales from Sea of Okhotsk, despite a val­i­dated peer-​review pop­u­la­tion abun­dance study that con­cluded the pop­u­la­tion is sta­ble and will not be neg­a­tively affected by acquir­ing a lim­ited num­ber of bel­u­gas from that area.

They feel strongly they were doing what was right and law­ful and that NOAA Fish­eries vio­lated their long­stand­ing inter­pre­ta­tion of the Marine Mam­mal Pro­tec­tion Act, which specif­i­cally stresses the impor­tance of car­ing for ani­mals at zoos and aquar­i­ums in order to not only advance sci­ence, but to encour­age con­ser­va­tion and aware­ness in the mil­lions of guests who visit these organizations.

How­ever, they believe NOAA’s deci­sion is precedent-​setting and could be chal­leng­ing for any future requests for acqui­si­tion from ocean-​dwelling populations.

The aquar­ium remains com­mit­ted to its impor­tant mis­sion of pro­vid­ing excep­tional care of cetaceans as well as edu­ca­tional, con­ser­va­tion and research efforts. It will con­tinue its dol­phin and bel­uga whale pro­grams through breed­ing and exchange of ani­mals liv­ing at high-​quality care facilities.

Response by Born Free Foundation

The Geor­gia Aquar­ium, yes­ter­day, announced that it will no longer take whales and dol­phins from the wild. The Aquar­ium, which had pre­vi­ously applied to import 18 wild-​caught bel­uga whales from Rus­sia, makes this announce­ment days after the first show­ing of the highly-​anticipated ‘Born To Be Free’ doc­u­men­tary about the bru­tal cap­ture of Bel­uga from the wild – a film we may come to call the next ‘Black­fish for Belugas’.

The 18 whales were orig­i­nally caught in 2012 after the Geor­gia Aquar­ium first applied for a per­mit under the Marine Mam­mal Pro­tec­tion Act (MMPA) to import them from the Russ­ian Sea of Okhotsk. The appli­ca­tion was rejected by the National Marine Fish­eries Service’s (NMFS); a deci­sion appealed by Geor­gia Aquar­ium in the US Dis­trict Court in Sep­tem­ber 2013. In Octo­ber 2015 a Fed­eral court in Wash­ing­ton DC rejected the appli­ca­tion out­right. The Aquar­ium did not appeal.

Since their cap­ture, the whales have been kept in hold­ing tanks at the Utr­ish Marine Mam­mal Research Sta­tion in Rus­sia, where they are still in limbo. They belong to Rus­sia but Aquar­ium Chair­man and CEO Michael Leven, says The Aquar­ium felt respon­si­ble for them. “We’ve tried very hard to get these ani­mals housed some­where in the world,” he said. “We just felt that we had a moral and eth­i­cal respon­si­bil­ity to find them a place.”

These whales are no longer des­tined for Geor­gia Aquar­ium but are still des­tined for life in a tank.’ says Born Free Pro­grammes Offi­cer Saman­tha God­dard. ‘These whales were caught from the wild and yet cap­tiv­ity is being offered as the solu­tion. These indi­vid­u­als have remained in the coun­try they were caught, in the group that was caught together. The sin­gle most impor­tant ques­tion that remains unan­swered is: “Could they be can­di­dates for reha­bil­i­ta­tion to the wild where they could re-​join a pop­u­la­tion which has been openly declared as depleted.’

Whilst The Born Free Foun­da­tion con­grat­u­lates such a for­ward look­ing deci­sion by Geor­gia Aquar­ium, we can­not — we must not — ignore the fact that there are 18 wild ani­mals who should not spend the rest of their days in captivity.

(Source: Geor­gia Aquar­ium press release, 22.06.2016; Born Free news, 23.06.2016)

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