Today, Georgia Aquarium filed a complaint in a federal district court in Georgia appealing the decision made by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to deny a permit application to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia for the purpose of public display. As conservation and animal welfare organizations committed to the protection of beluga whales throughout their range, we strongly support NMFS’ recent decision to deny Georgia Aquarium’s request for a permit to import the belugas. We are disappointed that Georgia Aquarium has chosen to fight this decision.
NMFS used the best available science to determine that the import did not meet the requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Although the MMPA allows marine mammals to be imported for the purpose of public display, there is a specific process for issuing permits. This includes ensuring that the capture and import would not have an adverse impact on the stock of wild beluga whales. This particular permit application did not pass muster under the MMPA in part because NMFS determined that the import could have a significant adverse impact on the Sakhalin-Amur beluga whale stock and would likely result in the taking of marine mammals beyond those authorized by the permit.
Georgia Aquarium’s decision to challenge this sound and meritorious decision reflects a disregard for the integrity of the MMPA and the vulnerability of this population of wild belugas. Public opposition to this proposed import was overwhelming and, in combination with the strong science and evidence supporting a negative impact on the future of the affected population that underpinned the agency’s decision, calls into question Georgia Aquarium’s commitment to conservation principles.