Over two months ago, I urged an objective of having the Georgia Aquarium’s application to import 18 belugas caught in the wild, snatched from the Russian Sea of Okhotsk, be the most commented-on Federal Register notice ever. Since then, so many people have written so many wonderful articles and blogs, giving great substantive advice on what is wrong with the whole notion of importing wild-caught beluga whales into the United States, for display in America’s aquariums. Elizabeth Batt’s Op Ed: Public comment period opens for import of wild-caught belugas is packed with information and links to assist commenters with considering the import issue.
I’m not quite at “final comment stage” yet. This little noodle is still noodling.
But what I will do is share the following:
As of September 11, 2012, over 1200 public comments had been submitted to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regarding the Georgia Aquarium’s permit application!
Pretty awesome, I’d say! And keep those comments coming, folks. Jump on the comment train. Use your noodle. Seek advice. Reach out to the experts. Write a substantive comment.
Even though I’ve got more noodling (I am apparently enamored of the word ‘noodle’ today) to do, one thing you might include in your comment is a question to the Secretary of NOAA to explain, in his Response to Comments:
- the specific factual record on which he made his determination that the capture of these 18 specific beluga whales was “humane.”
He really can’t step over that one. He can’t assume that just because a beluga whale survived the terribly stressful act of capture, that the capture process was humane. Nope. The law doesn’t allow him that luxury. And so it is reasonable for us to ask the basis for that determination. Was he there to observe the capture of each of the 18? Did they videotape every moment of every capture, of all 18? Or does he base his determination upon a generic certification of a process but one which was, in this specific instance, unobserved by any other than those who gain from the import? Well, that doesn’t seem to be a reasonable basis upon which the Secretary of NOAA should make an independent finding. Jus sayin’. Especially when we haven’t allowed this in OVER TWENTY YEARS and granting an import permit like this would represent a substantial change in direction in U.S. and U.S. aquarium policy and practice.
In contrast to a finding that capture is humane, the EXPERTS observe that the act of capturing these animals for the captivity industry is inherently violent, as shown in this capture footage excerpted from A Fall from Freedom, film by Earth Views Productions, as well as this video that shows capture of belugas by the same business that captured the 18.
So this citizen is very curious about the Secretary’s factual basis – how he determined that the violence shown in this capture footage did not, in fact, occur at the Sea of Okhotsk. Hm.
Here’s the deal: the Secretary of NOAA must find, in making his decision, whether the capture process is “humane”, (16 U.S.C. §1374(b)(2)(B)); any capture must pass that threshold or the permit application be denied. It is, therefore, important that your comment request (1) how the Secretary made his determination that the capture was, in fact, humane, as to the specific 18 beluga whales, and (2) any records that were considered as documentation of humane capture and in making that determination. Further, while NOAA is not empowered to change legislation, a challenge to the reasonableness of the definition of “humane” under the statute is appropriate to be directed at both NOAA as well as your lawmakers.
And as a bit of a sidebar, despite the words at the beginning of the NOAA website for this permit application, which sounds all hearts and flowers about how the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) “allows” for the removal and import of marine mammals for the purpose of public display, the actual wording of the MMPA carries with it quite a different tone and objective. The MMPA states, “There shall be a moratorium on the taking and importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products, commencing on the effective date of this chapter, during which time no permit may be issued for the taking of any marine mammal and no marine mammal or marine mammal product may be imported into the United States except . . .” So, while one of the exceptions is importation for public display, when NOAA states that it is “allowed” instead of it is “prohibited, except,” that seems to suggest an allowing rather than a prohibiting-with-justification-for-exceptions kind of mindset. Instead of a Protection act, the NOAA website language suggests an Importation act. Wouldn’t you say?
This link to the NOAA website, and specifically to the page that NOAA created for the Georgia Aquarium’s import permit application, includes background information and a link to submit your comment online, as shown in the picture below, just above the address of where to fax your comment, if you choose to fax, to a Ms. Skidmore, who is also credited for taking the picture to the right of the beluga whale at the Georgia Aquarium.
So, keep your comments coming folks. Keep them reasonable. Keep them real. So that NOAA’s response must explain how its decision is consistent with the law. Make this the most commented-on Federal Register Notice ever.