Today the National Marine Fisheries Service announced a positive 60-day finding on a petition to designate the Sakhalin Bay-Amur River beluga whale population in the Sea of Okhotsk, Russia, as depleted under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The petition was submitted by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Cetacean Society International (CSI), and the International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) of the Earth Island Institute, on April 23rd, 2014. The petition was submitted to seek additional protections for this beluga population, which is the principal target of an ongoing global trade in live whales for the captive display industry.
A growing number of belugas are captured every year from this population for sale to countries such as China. Currently this population is the only source of whales for the international live trade. In 2013, over 100 belugas were removed from this single population, a number well in excess of what scientists believe would jeopardize its long-term survival. A depleted designation under the MMPA will stimulate research and conservation efforts by the United States and foreign governments, conservation organizations, the scientific community, and funding institutions to help recover these belugas and protect their habitat.
With this positive 60-day finding, the National Marine Fisheries Service must begin a status review, due in mid-November, of the Sakhalin-Amur population of belugas. A public comment period is now open until September 2, 2014, during which the public can submit information the agency should consider in its status review. AWI, WDC, CSI, and IMMP will be submitting additional scientific and trade information to inform this process.