Moby Dick may be the most famous white whale, but belugas are the true snowy natives of the sea. They don’t always have their strikingly bright skin shade, however. Belugas are born dark blueish or brownish gray, and gradually lighten as they age, until they are the solid white that they’re famous for. Even then, they keep some of the darker pigment around the very edges of their flukes and flippers. Their bright white appearance is an adaptation that helps them blend in among the arctic ice, giving them a little extra protection from predators’ eyes.
Baby belugas in captivity are still born with their dark coloring, but captive breeding attempts have been largely unsuccessful, and most babies don’t survive to develop their famous beluga coloring. The dwindling captive population is the main impetus behind this effort to import wild belugas. The Georgia Aquarium wants to import these wild belugas to maintain the captive population of belugas in the US; they’re taking 18 individuals away from the only life they’ve known – in the wild, wide ocean – and putting them in tanks, all in the name of genetic diversity. Prior to this effort, there have been no attempts to import wild whales and dolphins into captivity for 20 years. Taking these belugas out of the wild is not a conservation issue – 18 healthy individuals are being removed from their homes and family groups; some of the belugas were so young when they were taken, they may have still been nursing. These belugas should never know captivity after experiencing normal life in the wild, and their babies shouldn’t be born in tanks, where they have a very low chance of survival.
For this week’s sponsor, we’re telling Microsoft, a company that strives to incorporate their environmental principles into their business relationships, that we don’t want these wild belugas to know life inside a tank. Tell them: “Microsoft, you want to be a leader in environmental responsibility – putting wild whales in captivity is not responsible! Don’t support the Georgia Aquarium’s effort to import wild Russian belugas!”
Thanks for helping belugas stay safe and free, and see you next week for your next beluga fun fact!