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US aquarium wants to import belugas from Canada

Beluga whale

Mystic Aquarium, in the US state of Connecticut, has applied to import five young beluga whales from Marineland in Canada for research, claiming they cannot study the whales without moving them.

Canada banned whale and dolphin captivity earlier this year but we’re facing a battle to make sure this law is upheld.

Two attractions in Canada hold whales or dolphins. Vancouver Aquarium holds a single Pacific white-sided dolphin named Helen, while Marineland in Ontario has more than 50 belugas in its tanks, as well as five endangered Black Sea bottlenose dolphins and a lone orca, Kiska.

Under the new law, these aquariums can keep the whales and dolphins they already have, but they are not allowed to breed them. The import or export of any whale or dolphin is also prohibited unless it’s deemed to be in their best interest or for scientific research. These exemptions could open dangerous loopholes in the new law, with one export already granted to move two belugas from Marineland to Spain, claiming it was for the welfare of the belugas.

Mystic Aquarium’s application states that while they don’t intend to breed the whales, they won’t prevent ‘natural breeding’, and it includes plans for any calves born during the research project.

Sadly, these belugas would be part of Mystic’s public display if moved to the US, and any calves born would only add to the number held in captivity in the US.  Once at the aquarium, these whales would be on public display and could be bred or moved to other facilities.  If they move to the US under the 'scientific research' loophole, not only will their health and welfare be at risk, but they will help perpetuate the cruel cycle of supply and demand. If they stay in Canada, breeding or sale to other facilities will be prohibited by law.

The US National Marine Fisheries Service has opened a consultation giving the public the chance to respond to this import application. We are using this process to make a strong argument that they should deny this permit. If you would like to put your views forward you can use their online consultation form to do so*.

In 2015, together with our partners in US organisations, we won the fight to prevent the import of 18 wild-caught belugas from Russia into the US.  Now, we’re working with many of the same partners to oppose this import request.  Sadly, the belugas who would be imported from Canada are descended from the same at-risk population of Russian belugas.  The Sakhalin-Amur population is considered ‘depleted’ under the US’s Marine Mammal Protection Act, and attempting to import the offspring of these wild-caught belugas raises questions about the legality of the request from this US aquarium.  In another twist, the hugely controversial Russian ‘whale jail’ held 90 belugas from this same population.

*Please note that while this is open for public comment, US authorities will only consider comments that address the specifics of the permit application rather than general comments based on opinion as to whether captivity is good or bad. They will also disregard submissions which repeat one another. For these reasons WDC is not providing a template response.

Julia Pix

About Julia Pix

Communications manager - Public Engagement

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