Activists, actors and scientists go to court in opposition of beluga whale import plan

by Tom Anstey | 17 Apr 2015

Plans by Georgia Aquarium to import 18 beluga whales have met with stern opposition from a group of activists, actors and scientists.

The aquarium first applied to import the whale pod in 2012, saying it would help diversify its existing beluga gene pool in the US. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries (NOAA) denied this application in August 2013, leading the institution to sue NOAA for the right to acquire the beluga whales.

NOAA denied the permit on the basis that the aquarium failed to meet the requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, arguing that the aquarium did not ensure that the capture of the belugas – caught in the Sea of Okhotsk and currently under the care of a Russian team – would be unlikely to have an adverse effect on the beluga population in the area where they were sourced. The aquarium has denied this, stating in court filings that it has taken significant steps to ensure the whales’ removal from the wild wouldn’t have negative effects.

During court proceedings, the judge allowed several animal welfare groups to join the litigation side of NOAA. Included in the group are actors Kim Basinger, Shannen Doherty, Edward Norton and Hayden Panettiere and film producer Jean-Michel Cousteau – as well as environmentalists and a number of scientists, filmmakers and conservationists.

If permission is granted by the courts, some of the whales would join the four beluga whales that currently reside in Georgia Aquarium, while the rest would be loaned to other approved marine sites, including SeaWorld, which recently lost an on-loan beluga after an encounter with other animals in its tank.

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Georgia Aquarium files lawsuit in bid to import 18 wild beluga whales to the US

Plans by Georgia Aquarium to import 18 beluga whales have met with stern opposition from a group of activists, actors and scientists. The aquarium first applied to import the whale pod in 2012, saying it would help diversify its existing beluga gene pool in the US. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries (NOAA) denied this application in August 2013, leading the institution to sue NOAA for the right
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Georgia Aquarium argues the move would help diversify its gene pool / Shutterstock.com
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