Will 18 wild beluga whales go to the Georgia Aquarium?

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The following article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Georgia Aquarium has applied for a permit to obtain 18 wild belugas – a move guaranteed to ignite a firestorm of protest.  Last year the conscientious Ocean Park Aquarium in Hong Kong scrapped similar plans as a result of negative international public sentiment, and if this report is true, the Georgia Aquarium can certainly expect an even greater outcry.
It may take a while to verify this report since the amusement park industry is protected by a cloak of secrecy by our government when it comes to marine mammal permits, and it will require obtaining information by using the Freedom of Information Act – a process which can take a month or more.
In the meantime, you can contact the Georgia Aquarium:
For more information, contact Public Relations:
Meghann Gibbons

Georgia Aquarium plans to bring more belugas into the country

By Bo Emerson
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Georgia Aquarium has applied for a permit to bring 18 beluga whales into the country, to be housed in aquariums and zoological parks at locations around the country.
The initiative is part of a three-year, multimillion-dollar conservation program intended to improve the genetic diversity of belugas in captivity in this country, which, in turn, would make the beluga population more stable. It would also broaden the database of research on beluga’s needs and capabilities.
There are 34 belugas in human care in the U.S., including four at the Georgia Aquarium, according to William Hurley, the aquarium’s chief zoological officer.
Many of those animals are past child-bearing age, and only two males have contributed to the artificial insemination efforts carried on throughout the country, Hurley said. Importing additional animals will make for a greater success at breeding efforts, he said.
Atlantans were expecting the Georgia Aquarium’s beluga population to grow this year when the aquarium’s 17-year-old female Maris gave birth in May, but that infant calf was born in critical condition, and died just a few days later. Hurley said the aquarium is still waiting on toxicology and histology reports from the necropsy on the dead calf.
“When the calf didn’t make it, it was devastating to us,” Hurley said.
The new belugas would come from a population of several thousand belugas in the Sea of Okhotsk in eastern Russia, between the Kamchatka peninsula and the mainland. Russian scientists, with the oversight of marine protection agencies there, have already collected the animals that would come to the U.S.
Georgia Aquarium personnel have taken significant measures to ensure the removal of the animals from this pod would not adversely affect the whale population in that part of the ocean. Over the last three-and-a-half years, the aquarium has sponsored research missions, hiring Russian airplanes, camping on treeless barrier islands near the arctic circle, to conduct population counts and epidemiological studies on the whales there.
Just these research efforts alone have cost the Georgia Aquarium about $2 million, Hurley said.
It has not been determined whether any of the new belugas would come to Atlanta. That kind of decision is usually made by those coordinating nationwide conservation efforts.
The project is an important one, said Marilee Menard, executive director of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums.
“The beluga import is a seminal decision that is strongly supported by the marine mammal community,” she said. “The Alliance’s understanding is that the new animals are of the right ages and sexes to virtually ensure the goal of a long-term, sustainable population for decades to come.”
A bigger captive beluga population would also provide a broader sampling for scientists studying bio-acoustics, nutrition and temperature effects and other criteria critical to the survival of the species, said Brandon Southall, former director of the ocean acoustics program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Menard said belugas may be particularly sensitive to climate change, which makes retrieving information on their basic processes more important.
“We’ve been working three and a half years on this,” Hurley said. “This is when we put our money where our mouth is…

“We want to fix this mess so that your children and grandchildren can see beluga whales.”

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