Look Out, SeaWorld – the Georgia Aquarium is Ahead of You in the Beluga Game

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The Georgia Aquarium appears to be trying to beat SeaWorld at its own game – they have mastered the art of turning animals into circus clowns while pretending to educate, and are adept at lightening the wallets of amusement seeking guests. At their ‘educational’ facility you can swim with their new cash cows, the benign whale sharks ($225) or ‘encounter’ (feed and pet) the belugas and dolphins ($60 – $180). They appeal to children not through the magic of learning but through the magic of fantasy. Will they really get a permit to import more wild belugas for this?

It has been a year since the Georgia Aquarium requested permission to import wild caught belugas – and after boasting of how much better it is for the belugas to be in captivity than returned to their wild homes, the aquarium lost their first attempt at captive breeding right away (in May of 2012) – and they still have not been issued the permit.  It may have something to do with the nearly 8000 comments made by the public on the permit application – the National Marine Fisheries Service is required to consider them all.
Georgia Aquarium chief zoological officer Bill Hurley appears to be talking to an invisible chair (aka Clint Eastwood) while going though rhetorical hoops to explain how valuable the death of the calf was, and no one’s fault, really:

On their website, the aquarium states “As important ambassadors to their species, beluga whales bring marine mammal education to life and inspire millions of people to become involved in their conservation and protection.” The educational tenor of Georgia Aquarium:

“Georgia Aquarium is proud to take a bold step to ensure the care and understanding of belugas in human care and in the wild. We recognize the immense knowledge and education that the study of these animals can provide, and we aim to inspire the public to conserve and protect the species.” Here is a composite of what the aquarium provided to the public in 2011:

Georgia Aquarium’s new Beluga & Friends Interactive Program is a never-before-offered opportunity for an exclusive encounter with Georgia Aquarium’s beloved beluga whales! This inspirational, educational program allows guests to don Aquarium wetsuits and wade into the water to interact with the animals alongside Aquarium beluga whale trainers. Guests will also get a chance to meet some of the other animals that live in the Georgia-Pacific Cold Water Quest gallery. With only eight slots per session, it’s an intimate experience you and your family will never forget. http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/explor…

The truth? With most US animals too old to reproduce and naturally low survival rates for calves, the captive population is in desperate need of new animals and new genes, but Americans are hesitant to allow amusement parks to destroy natural wild populations of whales and dolphins. The solution for the amusement parks was to help Russians capture wild belugas, then ask to have them imported to the U.S. after the deed was done. Will our government support this? That remains to be seen.
If the permit is granted, the initial distribution of the 18 animals proposed to be imported will be: three to the Georgia Aquarium; Shedd will receive four animals; SW San Antonio, six; SW Orlando, two; and SW San Diego, three. All the whales will be owned by the Georgia Aquarium, so the transfers will be made under breeding loan agreements. Mystic Aquarium won’t receive any, but some animals might be transported there in the future.
For more information, contact Georgia Aquarium Public Relations: Meghann Gibbons Director 404.581.4109 mgibbons@georgiaaquarium.org Jessica Fontana Specialist 404.581.4391 jfontana@georgiaaquarium.org

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