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:
Naomi A. Rose, Ph.D. (Animal Welfare Institute): 202-446-2120;
Courtney Vail (Whale and Dolphin Conservation): 480-747-5015;

Whales, Dolphins, and Noise – a Call for Crowd-sourcing a Solution

Photo by Ivan Hawick.
Photo by Ivan Hawick.

I recently wrote about a series of whale deaths and strandings near the Shetland Islands, in an area of active seismic exploration for offshore oil (please see Panicked Whales Are Stranding in Area of Seismic Exploration and Terrifying and Destructive to Whales and Dolphins: A Glimpse Into the Reality of Seismic Exploration). Within a week, pilot whales stranded or attempted to, a Minke whale and a sei whale beached themselves and died…and now BBC reports the rare and usual death of a mother Sowerby’s beaked whale – her calf swam off, but is not expected to survive on its own – and a pilot whale calf who was separated from its own mother had to be euthanized, all in the same general region on the coasts of Scotland.
By going to, I was able to obtain information on the ships present at the time, and some very powerful seismic surveys have been underway.
As unfortunate as this occurrence is, it is only the tip of the iceberg – these seismic surveys are ongoing around the world and similar scenarios are playing out everywhere. The Guardian reports that in Ghana similar strandings are occurring at an alarming rate.
The following video shows why this is such an alarming situation – the whales and dolphins face destruction on a level unparalleled since the end of industrial whaling, at least by humanity’s more advanced cultures.

This is not a problem our governments can readily solve, they lock horns over issues that seem more essential to them – who has the oil, how do we feed humanity’s insatiable appetite for cheap energy without it – in the meantime, we are watching Earth’s climate and oceans spiral out of control. And species after species silently go extinct, taking with them their unique bits of the web of life that has allowed life on Earth to flourish.
It is up to us – the regular folks who just want to protect what we have left – and the logical first step is to help the scientists collect data on these strandings. It would seem logical to set up a website where people the world over could upload photos and videos of strandings, and record basic information.
After that, maybe people can come up with alternatives to seismic surveys (although the oil companies have invested billions into this technology…well into the future). Is there a way to take advantage of seafloor earthquakes to get the information on oil deposits? An effective warning system that can be developed, similar to out tsunami warnings, that the whales would learn meant invasive and deadly sound would follow?
Please post your ideas in the comments here, or email me with ‘seismic exploration’ in subject line.
The whales and dolphins need us more than they have in centuries.

Children Speak Up and Create a Video Response to the Documentary “Blackfish”

Children often have strong opinions about what goes on in the world around them, and can feel powerless to express their thoughts and to be heard, yet their thoughts can have a powerful effect on us all – two examples that come to mind are The Diary of Ann Frank, and the famous letter “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” .
Teachers must have their work cut out for them in today’s world, where because of media access children are bombarded with information and are witness to events from which they once were sheltered. How to help and empower them so that they can grow up to be contributing adults who work to solve problems may not be every teacher’s task, but it certainly is every teacher’s mission.
One such person is Mr. Parkinson, a computer specialist at a school in Manchester, England, who is focusing on teaching kids how to use ipads as a tool and who found the documentary film “Blackfish” touching and powerful. Because he felt that some of the content would be disturbing, he only has the children watch the trailer (below). The film is not scheduled to be released in Europe so there is no question that the kids would be exposed to the really disturbing events. Mr. Parkinson writes:

In my quest to find a topic that I want to ignite the children’s passion to write and share work through the school blog, I watched a very moving and interesting film over the summer called Blackfish. The documentary exposes the dreadful life of Killer Whales in captivity. Although I don’t feel the film is appropriate for children to watch and have emphasised this point with them (some scenes of the whales attacking trainers etc.) The message that it portrays, however, is one I wanted to share with the class. I wanted to use a real life issue to inspire writing and this is one that the film has really brought into the public eye.

From the children in Mr. Parkinson’s class:

Mr Parkinson told us about a film he watched over the summer called, Blackfish. This documentary explored the effects captivity have on killer whales. After Mr Parkinson told us a little about the film, we wanted to research some of the effects ourselves and were astonished to see how unfair and unnatural it is to keep these very intelligent animals in captivity. Mr Parkinson made it clear that the film wasn’t appropriate to watch however did show us a suitable clip that demonstrated some of the effects captivity has on Orca.
We wanted to start this topic with a bang and raise as much awareness as possible so we decided to make a class advert for this issue. We discussed features we could include to make our advert as effective and really grab people’s attention. We used camera effects and emotive music to set the mood. We used rhetorical questions to make the viewer think and persuade them to agree with our viewpoint.
If you agree with the message in our video, please help us raise awareness by sharing our video with as many people as possible. This will hopefully provide our blog with an audience to showcase the writing we will be producing over the next few weeks. We would also love it if you can comment on our video to let us know what you think. Some of the children have already been writing about this issue and you can read them here.