Yeah – Beluga whales win

NOAA Fisheries denies application to import 18 beluga whales for public display

August 6, 2013

Beluga whale.

Beluga whale.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Following a number of public engagement efforts, NOAA  Fisheries today announced it is denying the Georgia Aquarium’s request for a  permit to import 18 beluga whales from Russia for public display in the United  States. NOAA Fisheries based the decision on requirements of the Marine Mammal  Protection Act (MMPA).

The MMPA allows marine mammals to be removed from the wild  or imported for the purpose of public display, and provides a process for  issuing permits. This is the first application for a permit to import  recently caught wild marine mammals in more than 20 years.

“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.”

After careful review, NOAA Fisheries concluded that the  application did not meet several of the MMPA permit criteria. NOAA  Fisheries denied the permit application because:

  • NOAA  Fisheries is unable to determine whether or not the proposed importation, by  itself or in combination with other activities, would have a significant  adverse impact on the Sakhalin-Amur beluga whale stock, the population that  these whales are taken from;
  • NOAA  Fisheries determined that the requested import will likely result in the taking  of marine mammals beyond those authorized by the permit;
  • NOAA  Fisheries determined that five of the beluga whales proposed for import,  estimated to be approximately 1½ years old at the time of capture, were  potentially still nursing and not yet independent.

Beluga whale pod in the Chukchi sea on July 1st 2008.

Beluga whale pod in the Chukchi sea on July 1st 2008.
Marine Mammal Permit: 14245

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

The Aquarium sought to import the whales from Utrish  Marine Mammal Research Station on Russia’s Black Sea Coast for public display  at its own facility in Atlanta and at partner facilities, including SeaWorld of  Florida, SeaWorld of Texas, SeaWorld of California and 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, and the impact on the stock of other human activities, such  as hunting and fishing, is unknown.

NOAA Fisheries held a public hearing on the proposed beluga whale  importation on October 12, 2012. The 60-day public comment period closed  Oct. 29, 2012, with NOAA Fisheries receiving approximately 9,000 comments.

Beluga whales are social animals that typically migrate,  hunt and interact together 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.

For more information, including the decision memo, are available online.

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