A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Capturing Belugas to “Save” Them

Unwitting visitors pay to stroke captive belugas at the Georgia Aquarium. The belugas are trained to cooperate by being rewarded with food.

The Georgia Aquarium is planning to capture 18 beluga whales from where they live in the Sea of Okhotsk in eastern Russia, and fly them halfway around the world to put them on display. Their explanation for doing this would be hilarious if it were not so sad and not such an unconscionable abuse of highly intelligent animals.

The people who run this marine zoo/circus, which they claim to be the largest in the world, say they’re capturing the whales for the purpose of “conservation” through a captive breeding program.

Of course, the Georgia Aquarium knows all about the captive breeding of belugas. The last one they bred died a few days after she was born just over a month ago.

The aquarium says the reason for kidnapping the belugas from Russian waters (they’re not allowed to capture them in American waters) is because there are so many thousands of them there. But if they’re not endangered in their home waters, why the sudden rush to place their lives in jeopardy by flying them half way round the world to a tank where they’re going to put them on display and try their luck, once again, at breeding them?

And all in the name of “conservation”. (When the last baby died, they said it was not unusual for first-born belugas to die in captivity and in the wild. This was a highly deceptive statement, as we explained here.)

Of course, it’s all nonsense. The belugas don’t need the “help” of the captivity industry. They just need to be left alone!

Dolphin-Tales-georgia-aquarium-070112Already, in the name of conservation, this marine circus puts on one of the single most tasteless dolphin performances anywhere in the world, sponsored by AT&T in what it calls a “spectacular musical theatrical performance” with “live human actors, dramatic costuming and amazing effects” all of which is supposedly going to teach us “the importance of caring for and about aquatic creatures.”

Where is the watchdog press?

In its usual fawning mode, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, published a glowing story about the plan on Saturday … and took it off its website on Sunday. Why?

Just like in last month’s piece about the death of the baby beluga, the AJC once again just printed whatever the Georgia Aquarium wanted it to write, without checking the facts with any outside experts who are not being paid by the aquarium and without presenting any view at all other than that of the people running this aquatic zoo.

Here’s the text of the AJC’s now-removed article: (Update: Monday July 2nd. The article has now been republished on the AJC website.)

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.

“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.”

We’ve written to the author of the report to ask why the AJC took it down. We’ll let you know if we get an answer.

What you can do: Please don’t buy into the propaganda of zoos and marine circuses like the Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld that they’re helping animals. They’re not; they’re simply profiting off them. And don’t buy the line that these shows or exhibits are “educational.” There’s not a shred of evidence that anyone is educated by seeing these super-intelligent, self-aware animals living in a tank doing acrobatics for an audience. Very simply: Don’t buy a ticket. And tell your friends and family to do the same.