The Georgia Aquarium in the US (representing five other marine parks including SeaWorld), has filed an official permit request to import 18 beluga whales captured in the wild over the course of five years. Despite no imports of deliberately captured whales and dolphins for US facilities since 1993, the Georgia Aquarium will receive six of these belugas, and the rest will go to other US facilities.
This request is extremely significant and worrying for a number of reasons. Previous imports of wild-caught whales and dolphins into the US had been “rescues” from inadequate facilities, had resulted from strandings, or were imported after the animals spent decades in captive facilities elsewhere. However, this new permit request represents the direct commissioning of belugas to be captured from the wild.
Until now, captive facilities had painted their captive populations as self-sustaining, and assembled and maintained without the need to take from the wild.
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) refers to the removal of live whales and dolphins 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.
In addition, captivity represents a different form of ‘death’ for these wild animals—a permanent life confined to a concrete pool.
The last captures from the wild in US waters occurred in 1993 when the Shedd Aquarium captured Pacific white-sided dolphins for its display. Captures are violent, and may cause distress, physical harm, and even death to those animals captured and also those left behind.
WDCS will be strenuously fighting these imports into the US.