Tag Archives: georgia aquarium

Georgia Aquarium Appeals Beluga Permit Decision; Animal Welfare Institute, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Respond

Do we really need more whales in tanks?
Do we really need more whales in tanks? Photo from Speak Up For Blue

 

From a previous post on this subject:

With most US animals too old to reproduce and naturally low survival rates for calves, the captive industry 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.

More information on this can also be found here.

Press Release:  Statement on Georgia Aquarium Appeal of NMFS Permit Denial

Date: Monday, September 30, 2013
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.
For more information see:  http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/georgia_aquarium_belugas.htm
Naomi A. Rose, Ph.D. (Animal Welfare Institute): 202-446-2120; naomi@awionline.org
Courtney Vail (Whale and Dolphin Conservation): 480-747-5015; Courtney.vail@whales.org

Import of 18 Wild-caught Belugas by the Georgia Aquarium is Denied!

(Apologies to readers, the Facebook button will allow you to share but will not record that you did, just a technical glitch!)
In a landmark decision today, NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) announced that it denied the request of the Georgia Aquarium to import wild-caught beluga whales.

The time of marine mammal circuses is drawing to a close.
The time of marine mammal circuses is drawing to a close.

After careful review, NOAA Fisheries concluded that the application did not meet several of the MMPA permit criteria. NOAA Fisheries denied the permit application because:
NOAA Fisheries is unable to determine whether or not the proposed importation, by itself or in combination with other activities, would have a significant adverse impact on the Sakhalin-Amur beluga whale stock, the population that these whales are taken from;
NOAA Fisheries determined that the requested import will likely result in the taking of marine mammals beyond those authorized by the permit;
NOAA Fisheries determined that five of the beluga whales proposed for import, estimated to be approximately 1½ years old at the time of capture, were potentially still nursing and not yet independent.
The Aquarium sought to import the whales from Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station on Russia’s Black Sea Coast for public display at its own facility in Atlanta and at partner facilities, including SeaWorld of Florida, SeaWorld of Texas, SeaWorld of California and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
The whales were captured from Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk between 2006 and 2011. There is little reliable scientific information about the size and population trend of the Sakhalin-Amur stock of belugas, and the impact on the stock of other human activities, such as hunting and fishing, is unknown.

Although not federally mandated under the marine mammal protection act unless an endangered species is under consideration, it is difficult for amusement parks and aquaria to obtain permission to display wild-caught cetaceans (whales and dolphins). Recognizing that public display facilities are woefully inadequate in meeting the complex needs of these animals and that public sentiment is not in favor of capturing wild animals for entertainment, NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) has generally made exceptions only in rescue situations such as when animals are injured or beached.
While threatened by climate change and development in their natural habitat, as a whole the population has a status of ‘near-threatened’ (although some sub-populations may be more endangered than others) in the wild, the 18 belugas requested for import are in no way considered rescued. They were caught purely to supply the demand for fresh genetic material for the captive industry and to generate money in displays worldwide.
31 belugas live in six U.S. aquariums and theme parks, but industry officials claim that this population of captives is unsustainable due to inbreeding so in a move reminiscent of the dolphin laundering that went on in the past (Fall From Freedom, see end) they applied for the ‘already caught’ belugas from Russia. In order to succeed in their request, however, they had to demonstrate to the NMFS that they could prove the following requirements for import were met.
“The proposed activity is humane and does not present any unnecessary risks to the health and welfare of marine mammals,”
“The proposed activity by itself or in combination with other activities will not likely have a significant adverse impact on the species or stock,”
The first requirement – that the capture was humane and did not cause risk – is the toughest to evaluate, but it is accepted that it is virtually impossible to capture a wild dolphin or whale without risk to the health and welfare of the animals.
The aquarium might have been able to argue for the second requirement – since the belugas were already captured hence the importation would no longer have an impact – but that would mean that the U.S. supports what is tantamount to poaching by other nations. Allowing other countries to do what our laws prevent, then allowing U.S. amusement parks to profit would send a clear message that our laws are here to be circumvented by industry.
This decision goes a long way towards restoring faith in a system that has accepted the burden of its office – to protect marine resources – while simultaneously facing the pressure from the huge captive display industry. Past decisions that undermined that faith in this arm of the government – such as allowing the standards of care to be set by the industry, not biologists – belong in the past, it was a different time, with different people at the helm when the decisions to bow to industry were made.
Times have changed, and hopefully this is a signal that life is about to get a whole lot better for captive whales and dolphins, at least as far as the government is concerned.

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

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

The Georgia A-Scary-Um – A Beluga Thriller (Video)


“Something strange is happening at the Georgia Aquarium. This Halloween, as the world’s largest aquarium transforms into the Georgia A-Scary-Um, there is a chill in the air and a noticeable change in the people and animals. Wonder what it could be…” Captivity!
Please oppose the importing of 18 wild Belugas for Georgia Aquarium by October 29th, this is an important issue for many reasons, and it will set an unfortunate precedent for capturing any non-endangered marine mammals for display if the permit is granted. (Find out more here).
http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2012-0158

What Beluga Whales Are Telling Us

It has been demonstrated that belugas can imitate speech and they try to communicate with us non-verbally as well – and as can be seen in these videos, the beluga is clearly “saying” that he is annoyed, or possibly he is so bored that he has made a game of frightening people.
The tapping, clicking, squeaking, pounding on the glass walls of the beluga tanks is nearly constant for the whales, each visitor not really understanding that it can be aggravating and stressful – and it goes on day in and day out. The aquarium personnel not only permit the behavior, but are disingenuous in what they tell the public.

Uploader: “Hi- I recorded this video… I don’t know who those kids are, but I blame the Mystic aquarium for not posting signs advising that the whales get agitated by people at the glass. An employee told me in confidence that they keep it a secret that the whale reaction is aggressive, because it can be interpreted as playful by someone who doesn’t know.”
A comment: “I’m sure you’ve already gotten this, but in the video Juno is jaw-popping. I’ve visited Mystic often enough to notice the pattern in this behavior. He only jaw pops at kids, and he only jaw pops when people are tapping on the glass. Sometimes the kids don’t even do anything and he STILL jaw pops at them. Normally this is an aggressive behavior, however I’ve been told my multiple employees that he learned it from Kela, and that he either does that for the reaction, or when the noise gets too loud.”

Jun 18, 2011
In an article on the educational value of captive displays of marine mammals, Dr. Lori Marino of the Kimmela Center reports that “I found that these organizations misrepresented information about the welfare and intelligence of marine mammals with boldly inaccurate assertions and biased half-truths.”
In Japan:

Dr. Marino is adamant that sentient, intelligent animals do not belong in tanks where they are continually subjected to unnatural conditions, and where the captive industry fails in their promise of education:

Saying that something is educational is not the same as something actually being educational. And this was the focus of my testimony to Congress at the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife in 2010 on the educational claims of the marine mammal captivity industry.
In my testimony, I questioned whether the marine mammal captivity industry is meeting the educational requirements of the MMPA and argued that in order for any program to meet even minimum standards for education or conservation, two straightforward criteria must be met:
This is the first time since 1993 that a U.S. marine park has sought to acquire wild-caught whales for public display. When asked to justify this major change in policy, the Georgia Aquarium replied that it is “to promote conservation and education.” They play the education card regularly because the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) requires public displays of marine mammals to be educational. They also know that education is an unassailable objective, so all zoos, marine parks and aquariums pay lip service to it.

(Mystic Aquarium, the Shedd Aquarium, and SeaWorld are included in the permit application.)
Please let NOAA know how you feel about taking more belugas from the wild and subjecting them to life in captivity.

How to Write Effective Comments and Make a Difference for Whales and Dolphins

The following tips are among those published by the government to help you increase the impact of comments you submit concerning government regulations, but they are useful points to know any time you want your comments to have impact. (Tips for submitting effective comments).

  • Although agencies receive and appreciate all comments, constructive comments (either positive or negative) are the most likely to have an influence.
  • If you disagree with a proposed action, suggest an alternative (including not regulating at all) and include an explanation and/or analysis of how the alternative might meet the same objective or be more effective.
  • The comment process is not a vote. The government is attempting to formulate the best policy, so when crafting a comment it is important that you adequately explain the reasoning behind your position.
  • Identify credentials and experience that may distinguish your comments from others. If you are commenting in an area in which you have relevant personal or professional experience (i.e., scientist, attorney, fisherman, businessman, etc.) say so.
  • Agency reviewers look for sound science and reasoning in the comments they receive. When possible, support your comment with substantive data, facts, and/or expert opinions. You may also provide personal experience in your comment, as may be appropriate. By supporting your arguments well you are more likely to influence the agency decision making.
  • Consider including examples of how the proposed rule would impact you negatively or positively.

For instance, if you would like to comment on the application submitted to NOAA by the Georgia Aquarium to allow for the importation of belugas from the wild, think about just one or two aspects that you feel strongly about, and emphasize what makes your opinion unique – this is not the time to be modest.  It all counts, from a particular memory to personal beliefs, everyone’s voice is important.  As an example, in the application Georgia Aquarium submitted copies of handwritten thank-you notes from children (which we all remember having to do following field trips as children – so while sweet, the letters may not reflect what the child experienced at all, and a teacher, parent, or really anyone who went on those field trips and wrote the letters can comment upon).

 

Circus appeal of their “educational” brochure.

 

Notice in this letter the use of a few simple points and the inclusion of qualifications, as suggested in the tips provided:

Statement Against Proposed Beluga Imports by the Georgia Aquarium
I would like to address three points – education, conservation, and the proposed living conditions – in which I feel that the Georgia Aquarium inaccurately portrays itself in its request to import wild belugas
Education:
The Georgia Aquarium misrepresents itself as an educational institution in an attempt to convince the public that deeming a display educational justifies the inhumane conditions which cetaceans are forced to endure in captivity.
While it can be exciting to view whales and dolphins up close in captivity, there is nothing authentically educational in the experience. The content of talks given by aquarium personnel and the accompanying graphics are muted and secondary when compared to the mesmerizing presence of the animals.
What is actually being learned is that there is nothing wrong with taking animals from the wild and keeping them in unnatural conditions.  This kind of learning is due to “meta-communication”,  defined as “Communication that indicates how verbal information should be interpreted; stimuli surrounding the verbal communication that also have meaning, which may or may not be congruent with that of, or support the verbal talk. It may support or contradict verbal communication.”  Seeing these animals – which come with built-in smiles – leads people to think that the whales are happy and healthy.
In the Aquarium’s  “Education & Guest Programs Guide 2011-2012” (provided in the application and found on page 307), founder and chairman Bernie Marcus writes “When I first envisioned the Georgia Aquarium, I knew it had to be educational, entertaining and it must help future generations gain an appreciation for our oceans and the organisms that live there. The Georgia Aquarium has become a remarkable resource serving to promote conservation and awareness to nearly 10 million people. By using the Aquarium as a true learning environment, guests are exposed to the many wonders of the rivers and oceans that surround us.”
Yet in an New York Times article dated 8/27/2012 the Aquarium’s Vice President for Education and Training, Brian Davis, describes the Georgia Aquarium’s contradictory stance on providing true education when he says “…to this day this institution ensures its guests will not hear the term global warming. Visitors are “very conservative,” he said. “When they hear certain terms, our guests shut down. We’ve seen it happen.”
Thus Georgia Aquarium blatantly states that their commitment to education goes as far as telling the public what they think the public wants to hear, despite Marcus’ prose.
Conservation and Living conditions:

The concept of taking wild animals into captivity in order to conserve a species is antiquated, and is based on 19th century thinking in which wild animals were often slaughtered for museums as the populations were otherwise decimated to near extinction.  A case in point is that of the Elephant Seal (Mirounga Angustirostris), a species nearly wiped out in less than two decades:
“In 1892 a Smithsonian expedition to Guadalupe Island discovered 8 elephant seals. But these early expeditions didn’t seem to be interested as much in species preservation as they were in collecting these rare specimens for science. As a result they killed 7 of the seals to bring back to U.S. museums. Reports of this discovery by Charles H. Townsend of the New York Aquarium further reveal that as they were loading the seals in the boats the surf came up and they were forced to leave 4 of the 7 on the sand. Nice.
This was rock-bottom for the elephant seal. It’s estimated that only between 20 and 100 individuals existed at that time. For the next twenty years each scientific expedition to Guadalupe Island killed as many specimens as they could as demand for them in museums of natural history was great. And despite this the population slowly recovered.”
Removing animals for display has the identical effect on the remaining wild population as does killing the targeted individuals, and captivity reduces the quality of life for the individuals removed thus can limit any perceived benefit to the captive gene pool (due to reproductive failure resulting from stress).
Although the Georgia Aquarium argues that the tank sizes meet or exceed APHIS requirements, and that the water quality is closely monitored, they do not appear to attempt the duplication of the natural conditions for belugas.
On page 269 of the application, the data given as representing the natural environment of the belugas proposed for importation is reported as:
“Average annual surface water temperatures are 5 to 7 °C (41 to 44.6 °F) in the north and 2 to 3 °C (35.6 to 37.4 °F) in the south (UNEP 2006). From May to November, average monthly water temperatures remain above freezing (UNEP 2006). Surface water temperatures drop to -1.0 to -1.8 °C (30.2 to 28.8 °F) in the late winter months (February and March), resulting in large formations of sea ice. In the Sea of Okhotsk, there is significant variability in water temperature between surface and sub-surface areas. The Sea is characterized by a layer whose core is -2 °C (28 °F) because of severe cooling on the northern shelf in winter. This cold intermediate layer can persist throughout the warm season and it is a feature unique to the Sea of Okhotsk (Radchenko et al. 2010)”
Yet the Aquarium belugas’ are kept in relatively balmy and uniform 54 degree (F) water which is composed of a “seawater mix with a combination of major salts as found in the ocean”.  However, fundamental to all life in the ocean is the fact that salinity and mineral content varies with many factors, and can define the ecological niche of marine wildlife.
Further, and possibly the most important factor with respect to the housing, is that belugas are unique among cetaceans in that they shed their epidermis in an annual molt, as opposed to the continual sloughing that is the case among other species.  This is known to occur in concert with annual migrations to warmer and fresher water. The Aquarium in no way accommodates this factor in the maintenance of the belugas they already house, nor is there anything in this permit application to suggest that they not the other institutions hoping to receive the belugas have even considered this basic biological need.
I urge you to not allow wild caught belugas to be subjected to captivity, as there are no valid reasons in education or conservation for doing so.
Sincerely,
Candace Calloway Whiting
Bachelor of Arts in Psychobiology
Post Baccalaureate of Science in Oceanography
blog.seattlepi.com/candacewhiting

Submitting Comments (the online form is quick and easy to use. Limited to 2000 characters or less in the text).

You may submit comments on this [Beluga Importation] document, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2012-0158, by any of the following methods:

  • Online: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: www.regulations.gov
  • Mail: Submit written comments to:
    Chief, Permits and Conservation Division
    Office of Protected Resources
    NOAA Fisheries
    1315 East-West Highway, Room 13705
    Silver Spring, MD 20910
  • Fax: 301-713-0376; Attn: Jennifer Skidmore

Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above methods to ensure that the comments are received, documented, and considered by NOAA Fisheries. Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.) submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive or protected information. NOAA Fisheries will accept anonymous comments (enter “N/A” in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

The Georgia Aquarium Bilked Taxpayers into Financing a Dolphin Exhibit by Using a Program Designed to Help Stuggling Families

In a classic bait-and-switch the Georgia Aquarium managed to con the government out of money expressly targeted to benefit low income communities, in order to finance the expansion of their dolphin exhibit in 2010.  Using the New Markets Tax Credit Program (NMTC Program) that was established to encourage investments in low income areas, the Georgia Aquarium received a significant tax credit in exchange for investment in Community Development Entities (CDEs).

According to publicly available tax documents, in 2010 the Georgia Aquarium established the Georgia Aquarium Foundation as their fundraising entity, and handed over $20 million to the foundation for this scheme.

The United States Census Bureau reports that Atlanta has just 22.6% of the population living below the poverty level, and according to Atlanta Downtown the median 2006 income was $45,000 in the area, where high rise condominiums are selling for as much as 2 million dollars…hardly what the government had in mind when they set the standard of 26% below poverty in order to qualify for the NMTC Program.
Invest Atlanta reported:

”The Georgia Aquarium is very pleased with the success of the partnership with the Atlanta Development Authority, SunTrust Bank and Wells Fargo,” said Matt Hodgdon, senior vice president and CFO at the Georgia Aquarium. “The new gallery will not only help increase the tourism draw to downtown Atlanta and create new jobs, but it will also allow us to educate and inspire our guests to care for these magnificent animals.”
“As this was our first investment with Imagine Downtown, it’s only fitting that we make a big splash by being part of this innovative financing package for the new dolphin exhibit,” said Jess Lawhorn, senior vice president for Wells Fargo. “We are thrilled to be part of this tremendous partnership, helping the aquarium expand its role both as a major attraction and as a large direct and indirect job creator for downtown Atlanta.”
“The Georgia Aquarium has made a significant impact over the past five years in downtown Atlanta, and we’re proud of our longstanding partnership,” said Jenner Wood, chairman, president and CEO of SunTrust Bank’s Atlanta/Georgia Division. “SunTrust is pleased to participate in the funding of these important projects that will create more jobs and opportunities for local residents and enhance the Aquarium’s operations.”
The New Markets Tax Credit funding helps to recapitalize the aquarium and not only positions it to be successful in its ongoing operations, but also will allow it to continue with other planned expansion and rehabilitation projects currently on the drawing board.
This $120 million expansion project is an 84,000-square-foot dolphin exhibit and theater with support areas to properly feed and care for the marine mammals. The project, which created an estimated 700 construction jobs and is expected to generate 320 permanent operational jobs, is set to open to the public in the spring of this year. The dolphin exhibit is the first and largest in a series of capital expenditure projects the Georgia Aquarium is expected to undertake in the next seven years with an estimated total capital cost of almost $250 million. The Georgia Aquarium, the world’s largest, has become a major economic institution since its opening in 2005, attracting more than 2.2 million visitors annually.”

While a legal non-profit corporation, the Georgia Aquarium is well financed and pays its employees astounding six figure salaries – for instance the salary for their head veterinarian in 2010 was $363,035 including bonuses and other compensations.
During this period the Aquarium also acquired Marineland of Florida after first deftly establishing a “Dolphin Conservation Field Station” there, while maintaining the owner of “entities that controlled Marineland of Florida”, James Jacoby, as one of the Aquarium’s directors (although the Aquarium reports that he “did not participate in the board meeting discussions regarding Marineland”). A blogger notes that:

“On 1-3-2011: Marineland of Florida announces the park has been sold to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta for 9.1 million from developer Jim Jacoby. Officials announce no immediate changes are planned for Marineland of Florida. Since Jacoby, a land developer who is on the Georgia Aquarium board, obviously had the connection to unload Marineland after he purchased it in 2001, and then guts and destroys this once historic landmark. The original Marineland of Florida was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. And thanks to Jacoby Marineland of Florida is now only a distant memory for many former visitors. Many websites do not recommend visiting todays Marineland. The main attraction is swimming with the dolphins for 20 minutes at a cost of $149. Admission to see very little is $8.50 for an adult and $4.oo for children. But everyone should go and judge for themselves.”

Why would the Aquarium want this dated facility? In part, they will use it to rescue marine animals, a sure way to get free specimens for their exhibits. From their media announcement:

“The acquisition of Marineland is part of an overall long-term strategy on behalf of Georgia Aquarium to expand the positive benefits of its programs throughout the Southeastern U.S. In 2008, Georgia Aquarium opened the Dolphin Conservation Field Station (DCFS) at Marineland, a joint venture with Marineland’s Dolphin Conservation Center, immediately adjacent to the historic Marineland property. Among other initiatives, DCFS is dedicated to studying marine animals off the coast of Georgia and northeast Florida and rescuing and rehabilitating stranded animals. Now under the same ownership and direction, DCFS and the Dolphin Conservation Center at Marineland are expected to align even more closely in the future.”

The Georgia Aquarium Benefactor, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Bernard Marcus was co-founder of the Home Depot and is both successful and philanthropic in life, so this reverse Robin hood maneuver, in which he is robbing the poor to help the well-to-do is hard to justify. He knows how to work the system, and works it to get what he wants.
Right now what he wants is to be the first institution in two decades to import wild caught beluga whales for captive display, and there is a maelstrom of protest. (More on this issue can be found here).
This seems a dangerous precedence, and a return to past eras when the wealthy could trample the rights of citizens.

Tweeting For Sea Canaries – Please Follow Along #noGAqbelugas

“This marine mammal is commonly referred to simply as the beluga or sea canary due to its high-pitched ‘twitter’.” (wikipedia).
Or in this case, the ‘Twitter‘ that has surged around 18 healthy wild belugas who were caught in Russia for captivity in amusement parks in the U.S.  First in line to import the whales is the Georgia Aquarium, who plans to then share them with SeaWorld, the Shedd Aquarium, and Mystic Sea Aquarium.

Former SeaWorld trainer Samantha Berg is planning to “live tweet” the public hearing on the import permit today (12 Oct 2012). The permit application would allow the import of wild belugas for the first time in decades (please see the NY Times article “Opposition as Aquarium Seeks Import of Whales“).

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) allows for the removal from the wild or importation of marine mammals for the purpose of public display.
The Georgia Aquarium submitted an application for an MMPA permit on June 15, 2012. This application (File No. 17324) requests authorization to import 18 beluga whales from the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station in Russia to the United States for the purpose of public display. These animals were previously captured from the Russian Sea of Okhotsk.
The animals would be imported and legally held by the Georgia Aquarium. Some of the animals would be transported to other U.S. partner facilities under breeding loan agreements. These facilities include Sea World of Florida, Sea World of Texas, Sea World of California, and Shedd Aquarium.

All Tweets will tag SeaWorld and the GA Aquarium and also include the hashtag #noGAqbelugas.  The event goes from 2pm-5pm EDT (11 am-2pm Pacific time).
This will be at the end of her tweets: @seaworld @GeorgiaAquarium #NoGAqBelugas.
For those of you new to Twitter/Tweeting/Twitterverse here’s why this is being done:
The hashtag (the # sign) makes all tweets from the hearing or about the hearing searchable so people who want to know what’s going on with this issue can just search for that hashtag. Also, there are sites that show how hashtags are trending (google #NoGAqbelugas and see what comes up).
By tagging SW and GA Aquarium in all posts, they will see the effect this attempted import is having on public perceptions of marine parks/aquariums.

Join the Visual Petition to Protect the Wild White Whales – Fun, Quick and Effective

Visual petitions are a way to connect people with a shared interest and to deliver a united message. Whether you use the photos provided on the website or make your own creative message, in a short time you can add your own image to thousands of others and help make a difference.

From the Visual Petition

Stop the Georgia Aquarium from Importing Wild-Caught Belugas (Humane Society).
The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta has applied for a permit from the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service to import these 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia. Meanwhile, much closer to home, 40 already-captive belugas languish in substandard conditions at Marineland of Canada.
If the permit is approved, the aquarium will transport these wild-caught whales 6,000 miles, first to Belgium and then across the Atlantic, causing the animals tremendous stress. For hours on end, the whales — highly sensitive to noise and handling — would be forced to endure the roaring engines of cargo planes. On top of that, the 1- to 1.5-ton animals would be transferred from one container to another — and then one plane to another — during their grueling journey’s layover in Belgium. It’s too much for these aquatic mammals, and it will be extremely stressful.
The 40 belugas at Marineland of Canada are desperately in need of rescue from deplorable conditions. The Georgia Aquarium could rescue them from misery, with a much shorter transport, rather than ship 18 whales 6,000 miles from Russia.
The Georgia Aquarium needs this permit to move forward with the import—help halt this application.

Activist Ric O’Barry

The photo above is part of an anti whaling petition by Surfers 4 Cetaceans.  Below is a collage of photos of people with signs, assembled to form an image of the highly endangered Hector’s dolphin  (from Let’s Face It Dolphins).

You can download and print out a photo provided on the website, then take your picture.

To join in to help the belugas:
Please go to the website’s Facebook page TODAY (October 10th, 2012) if possible and follow the directions on how to print a sign and submit your photo.  If you can’t make this first deadline it is still important to add your picture – then watch the petition grow!

Free the Atlanta 11 will print and assemble the visual petitions and ensure that they are presented to NOAA at the public hearing on October 12, 2012. We will continue to collect your visual petitions, so please encourage your friends to submit theirs, even if they submit it after the October 12 hearing. NOAA will begin evaluating public comments after the comment period closes on October 29, 2012, but please continue submitting your Visual Petitions and Free the Atlanta 11 will continue assembling and keeping you apprised of our progress.

Importation of wild beluga whales – NOAA explains the process

There are times when we all want to pull our hair out at the gummed-up molasses pace of government – it is both frustrating and discouraging.  But other times, such as now, government agencies seem to re-invent themselves and respond quickly to public concerns. In this case NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) took the initiative to address public concerns over Georgia Aquarium’s plans to import wild belugas (see the previous post for information on the aquarium’s request).
NOAA sent the following information along with a request that we all watch for the opportunity to voice our opinions –  they take the commenting period very seriously, and it is a chance to make a difference.

The final application was received on June 15th.  The next step is to review the application for completeness.

Once the application is considered complete, an environmental assessment  (EA) will be drafted to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.  It may take several months to prepare the draft environmental assessment.

Then, a notice of receipt for the application and availability of the draft EA will be published in the Federal Register (FR) (it will be combined into one FR notice).

The application and the draft EA will also be posted on the NOAA Fisheries Protected Resources website, and that link will be included in the Federal Register notice.

After the Federal Register notice is published, there will be a public comment period of at least 30 days. The Federal Register notice will include instructions for the public on how to submit comments.

Hopefully NOAA will institute a policy of making all marine mammal applications public in the future, but this recent action by them is a big step in the right direction.
And by the way, this issue is vital to the protection of all cetaceans.  If the Georgia Aquarium is granted permission to import the belugas – unconscionable in its own right – the door will be opened to capture other species, such as orcas, in other countries and then import them to our amusement parks.