AWI Seeks to Defend NMFS Decision to Deny Beluga Import

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Animal Welfare Institute, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Whale and Dolphin Conservation North America, Earth Island Institute, and Cetacean Society International have filed a motion to intervene in defense of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) August 2013 decision to deny Georgia Aquarium’s request for a permit to import 18 beluga whales from Russia for public display. Our organizations strongly support NMFS’s determination, and we are disappointed that Georgia Aquarium has chosen to continue this ill-conceived effort.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) only allows marine mammals to be imported for the purpose of public display if a specific process is followed and explicit criteria are met. NMFS cited three reasons for denying the permit request under the MMPA:

  • The agency  could not determine that the import, by itself or in combination with other activities, would not have a significant adverse impact on the Russian stock of belugas from which the 18 whales were taken, given the stock’s “steady and significant decline over the past two decades” caused in part by the “ongoing live-capture trade since 1989.”
  • The import would likely result in the capture of additional belugas from this stock, beyond those covered by the permit, because “issuance of this permit would contribute to the demand to capture belugas from this stock for the purpose of public display worldwide.”
  • Five of the beluga whales—estimated to be approximately 1.5 years old at the time of capture—were potentially still nursing and not yet independent at the time of capture.
     

Our organizations now await the district court’s ruling on our motion to intervene.