Photo: Stan Shebs
Georgia Aquarium, SeaWorld and Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium are working together to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales into the US.The beluga whales were captured during the years 2005 to 2011. They were living in the Sea of Okhutsk, off the eastern coast of Russia. Belugas from this area are often caught and sold to Aquariums for captive display.
These whales are causing controversy because belugas are cetaceans, like dolphins. These ocean dwelling mammals are incredibly smart and social, so much so that some people are demanding they get awarded rights. Captivity is problematic for these large mammals, which are adapted to living in the ocean.
“For all the arguments about veterinary care and restaurant-quality fish, they’re not living any longer,” Courtney Vale of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, told Wired. “After over 50 years of keeping belugas in captivity, we still don’t have a self-sustaining population.” According to Vail and Marino, the short lives are a symptom of beluga unhappiness in captivity.
If the Aquarium does import the belugas, they will be the first wild-caught cetaceans brought into the states in 20 years. The aquarium community argues that the beluga whale population in US captivity is getting more and more inbred, and in unsustainable without the infusion of fresh genes.
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