SeaWorld has surprised environmentalists by announcing on their website that they will not accept any of the 18 wild-caught beluga whales that Georgia Aquarium is trying to import into the country. SeaWorld was part of the original group (including the Georgia Aquarium and Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium) that proposed the import to the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
According to SeaWorld, in response to a question on their “SeaWorld Cares” website:
“Like Georgia Aquarium, SeaWorld is committed to the educational presentation of belugas and to working in partnership with all U.S. beluga holders to conserve this fascinating species. SeaWorld has not collected a whale or dolphin from the wild in decades and last year signed the Virgin Unite pledge indicating that we will not collect cetaceans from the wild. To reaffirm that commitment, SeaWorld has informed the Georgia Aquarium that we will not accept any of the belugas listed on their NOAA Fisheries import permit application. The Marine Mammal Protection Act supports the collection and importation of animals for public display in accredited zoological facilities, and SeaWorld’s decision on this matter does not in any way reflect judgment on those facilities leading or participating in this beluga whale conservation effort. Rather, it reflects an evolution in SeaWorld’s position since this project began more than eight years ago.”
The Virgin Unite pledge was developed by Virgin’s Richard Branson during talks with environmentalists, scientists and marine parks. While Virgin will still promote some dolphinariums, they will only do so if the parks pledge not to remove any dolphins or whales from the wild. (The pledge still allows keeping marine mammals in captivity and breeding them to produce more show animals.) SeaWorld has taken the pledge and, apparently, has reversed its plans to obtain wild beluga whales from Russia.
When NMFS denied the Georgia Aquarium application for a permit to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia, the Aquarium sued the US government. Earth Island and our coalition of organizations – Animal Welfare Institute, Whale & Dolphin Conservation, and Cetacean Society International – intervened in the case in support of the NMFS position. A decision from the federal judge in that case is expected in the coming months.
While SeaWorld was not a plaintiff in that lawsuit, we certainly assumed they supported the legal effort.
It remains to be seen what might happen next. SeaWorld could still bolster its beluga population through more breeding in captivity and even import sperm (rather than the whole beluga) via a NMFS permit to maintain genetic diversity of their captive animals.
To support Earth Island’s efforts in court to protect captive marine mammals like the Russian belugas, please consider sending us a donation. Our Coalition has to pay court costs for this lawsuit, including support for the lawyers and expenses incurred. Our lawyers are doing an excellent job of representing the voice of the beluga in court in Atlanta.
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