NOAA Blocks Import of Russian Belugas into the US
WDC is elated to announce the recent decision by the US Government (NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service-NMFS) to deny the Georgie Aquarium’s import permit request for the importation of 18 wild-captured belugas from Russia. WDC was at the forefront of efforts to oppose the permit, and heralds this significant decision as critical to the protection of this species from further depletions by denying a US market for such captive whales.
NOAA’s decision memo to deny the import permit outlines the Georgia Aquarium’s failure to demonstrate that the import will not have a significant adverse impact on the species or stock; the import will not likely result in the taking of belugas beyond those authorized by permit; and that five of the belugas proposed for import were not still nursing and dependent upon their mothers. Failure to prove these requirements under permitting regulations renders the permit request in violation and contravention of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The global capture and trade in whales and dolphins for captivity continues to threaten their health and welfare in the wild, and with the denial of this permit, NMFS has recognized this threat and endorsed the overwhelming public sentiment against this activity. The removal of live whales and dolphins from the wild for captive display is equivalent to deliberate killing, as the animals are no longer available to help maintain their natural populations. Captures are violent, and cause distress, physical harm, and even death to not only those animals captured, but for the ones left behind. In addition, the stress of transport may result in injury or death. And finally, removal for captivity represents a different form of death for these animals—a permanent life of sensory, social and physical deprivation in concrete pools.
This permit request represents a significant departure from how US facilities have been acquiring whales and dolphins for public display over the past several decades and represents the direct planning and commissioning of these captures from the wild by US facilities in an attempt to circumvent legal protections. It also reveals that captive beluga populations are not self-sustaining, supporting an ongoing requirement for their capture and removal from the wild in the future to stock facilities.