Blog | ALERT:  Stop the Georgia Aquarium Beluga Import Scheme

ALERT:  Stop the Georgia Aquarium Beluga Import Scheme

October 3, 2012 by Ric O'Barry, Earth Island Institute

By Ric O’Barry
Dolphin Project
Earth Island Institute

The Georgia Aquarium is proposing to import EIGHTEEN wild belugas, caught in the wild in Russia, to distribute to the three SeaWorld parks (Florida, California and Texas), Shedd Aquarium and Mystic Aquarium.

Belugas are the wonderful white dolphins that inhabit the Arctic Ocean.  They are also called the “sea canary” for their high-pitched whistles underwater, part of their communication and sonar.  Like all such dolphins, they live in close family groups.

Russia is becoming a bigger and bigger exporter of wild cetaceans as countries around the world shut down the blood dolphin$ trade.  Belugas are chased by boats and netted, ripping them from their freedom and their families, the two most important things in their lives.

The Georgia Aquarium claims the imports are “for public display to enhance the North American beluga breeding cooperative by increasing the population base of captive belugas to a self‐sustaining level and to promote conservation and education.”

But there is no reason to breed belugas in captivity except to put more on display.  And the education and conservation benefits of displays of these and other dolphins in public are nonexistent. 

This is a rip-off of the public trust by aquariums seeking income from rare species to populate their small tanks.


The US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is responsible for issuing the permits to import and hold any cetacean in aquariums in the United States.  Your voice is needed to help save these eighteen beleaguered belugas.

Deadline for Comments is October 29th, 2012.

There are several ways to comment:

Written Comments:
Chief, Permits and Conservation Division
Office of Protected Resources
NOAA Fisheries

1315 East-West Highway, Room 13705

Silver Spring, MD 20910

Fax Comments: 301-713-0376; Attn: Jennifer Skidmore

Submit Comments Online Here.

Tell NMFS that you OPPOSE the import permit for the Georgia Aquarium for eighteen belugas, because:

Capturing wild belugas is inhumane.  The purpose of the permit process is allow comment by the public and NMFS to review the capture methods as well as import procedures.  But the Georgia Aquarium has already captured the belugas in Russia in 2006, 2010 and 2011 – precluding any review of the capture process!  This is an attempt to simply ignore how these belugas were captured – we only have the word of the Georgia Aquarium that the captures were done “humanely.”  The claim by the Georgia Aquarium in their application is that the Russians crept up on wild belugas in shallow water with motorboats and netted them.  Motorboats?  Nets?  These are not “humane” ways to catch wild belugas.  These animals were traumatized, but the evidence is conveniently gone.

Captivity is a death sentence.  The application by the Georgia Aquarium claims that belugas live as long in captivity as in the wild and that high mortality of belugas in captivity “largely ceased by 1995.”  But two of nine captive belugas held there, according to NMFS records, died in captivity at the Georgia Aquarium in 2007!   In fact, of 34 belugas that have died in captivity in these six aquariums, 25 have died since 1995 (not counting two that died in 1995).   In total, of 71 belugas that have been held by these six aquariums (and often transferred between them) now asking for this import permit, 34 have died in captivity, almost 48% of them.  The 18 new belugas, if imported, will face a stressful, terrible life in captivity, and then many of them will die young.

There is no need to keep belugas in captivity for education and conservation.  As I have pointed out, Japan has 51 dolphinariums around that country, yet the Japanese hunters (funded by the captive dolphin industry) also kill more dolphins than any other country on Earth!  What kind of “education and conservation” is that?  My daughter has never seen a dinosaur, but she doesn’t have to see one in order to know about dinosaurs and to love dinosaurs.  The claim of educational and conservation benefits is completely bogus.  This is all about selling tickets.

Dolphins are persons and should not be treated like slaves.  Increasingly, science is showing us what I knew forty years ago when I was living with the dolphins who starred in the “Flipper” television series:  Dolphins are self-aware and can recognize themselves in mirrors, something no other species on Earth can do except for humans and some of the great apes.  Dolphins are the only wild animals I know of that repeatedly and persistently through history have saved the lives of humans.  In this day and age, keeping belugas in captivity cannot be justified by science or by our human conscience.  The captivity industry will seek to undermine this argument by claiming it is “emotional”, not scientific.  Legitimate scientists disagree.  And people who make money off of captive dolphins, who call the public “emotional” who oppose them, shows just how low the captive industry can get.

Don't be fooled.  The Georgia Aquarium and other dolphinariums will claim they are benefiting these belugas by buying them from Russia and putting them in nice superior aquariums.  This is a bogus argument: they will just encourage the Russians to go out and catch more belugas for other aquariums.  And once this population of belugas die in captivity in a few years, you can bet that the Georgia Aquarium, SeaWorld and other aquariums will be back asking for more.



Thank you for your efforts on behalf of the beluga whales.


Photo courtesy the US National Marine Fisheries Service.

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