In a newsletter to their supporters and in a blog post, the Georgia Aquarium announced the pregnancy of one of their captive beluga whales, Maris, and proudly presents ultrasound images of the unborn whale.
In the same update, the facility reports the transfer of a male beluga called Beethoven to the Shedd Aquarium stating: “Our experienced team is proud of our animal transport history and ensured that Beethoven received the highest level of care before, during and after the transport”. It might well be that the safety of Beethoven was secured – but nevertheless, the Shedd Aquarium is situated in Chicago, some 700 miles away from the Georgia Aquarium. A transport is pure stress for marine mammals, not to mention having to adapt to a completely new environment. The Shedd Aquarium already holds 7 belugas in their facility, two of whom are wild-caught.
Furthermore, the aquarium writes:
“Both aquariums are among six accredited U.S. facilities that care for beluga whales and are dedicated to saving the species through conservation and research programs in their native habitats. We work together to accomplish this through non-invasive research with the animals in human care, participation in cooperative management and breeding programs, and education initiatives to inspire others to care about this amazing species. Belugas worldwide are listed as “Near Threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The species is also listed as “Endangered” in specific areas, including Cook Inlet, Alaska, and select areas of Canada.”
However, how does “saving the species through conservation”, go together with an application from the very same aquarium to import 18 wild-caught belugas from Russia for public display? This application was filed with NOAA Fisheries in June 2012 and after a public hearing and public comment period denied in August 2013. Explaining the denial of the application, NOAA writes: “We believe that it is likely that total removals from this stock have exceeded the total net production on an annual basis resulting in a small, but steady and significant decline over the past 2 decades.” Although Georgia Aquarium is currently appealing this permit denial, WDC and other partners are intervening through legal channels to ensure that the permit denial is upheld.
It is good to see that the public opinion on captivity of whales and dolphins is changing but facilities, which hold cetaceans in concrete tanks, are still trying to sell their business as “conservation and education”.