Score One for the Whales! NMFS Bats Down Beluga Import Bid

AWI is very pleased to report that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has denied a permit application by Georgia Aquarium and partners (including SeaWorld and Shedd Aquarium) to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia for the purposes of public display. (See Fall 2012 AWI Quarterly.) AWI testified against the import at a public hearing held by NMFS, submitted detailed public comments to NMFS outlining the reasons for denial of the application, and asked AWI members to voice their opposition directly to Georgia Aquarium. In announcing its decision, NMFS stated that the application failed to meet the requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. For one, the applicants could not ensure that the capture and import, in combination with other activities, would not have an adverse impact on the source population—the Sakhalin-Amur beluga whale stock from which the 18 were taken. NMFS determined, rather, “that issuance of this permit would contribute to the demand to capture belugas from this stock for the purpose of public display in the U.S. and worldwide, resulting in the future taking of additional belugas from this stock.” Georgia Aquarium filed an appeal to this decision in district court on September 30; AWI is monitoring the proceedings and remains committed to supporting the permit denial.