Humaneness of “taking” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act

My testimony at the October 12, 2012, public hearing provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, regarding the application of the Georgia Aquarium to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales.

Good afternoon.  My name is Martha Brock.  I am from Atlanta, Georgia, and I am an environmental attorney.  Why I am standing here today, however,  stems from somewhere else.  I was a volunteer at the Georgia Aquarium on the Aquarium’s opening day because of my love for marine life and the water environment.  I continued to volunteer for over a year.  Until the whales and the whale sharks began dying.

Because I am an attorney, perhaps, I love words and ensuring that we follow the meanings of those words as intended.  I apologize to those for whom this is infinitely boring.

The regulations promulgated by NOAA that implement the Marine Mammal Protection Act specifically prohibit the importation of marine mammals “taken” in an “inhumane” manner.

“Humane” is defined as the method of taking, import, export, or other activity which involves the least possible degree of pain and suffering practicable to the animal involved.

“Take” which rather obviously includes the hunting process as well as the capturing process, also includes the “restraint” or “detention” of a marine mammal, “no matter how temporary,” and I think the corollary must be, no matter how long.

The burden is on NOAA to consider the facts as to these 18 beluga whales – that is, to “the animal involved” – requested to be imported into the United States and held in “detention” at the Georgia Aquarium and the other aquariums/marine parks involved.  That is, there is no generalized presumption of humaneness.  It must be demonstrated by the applicant for each animal and determined to be so by NOAA, for each animal.

But not only must this determination be made for each animal, it must be made for each aspect of “taking” as defined.  That is, NOAA must make this determination for the

  • hunting
  • capturing
  • detention
  • transporting
  • detention
  • transporting
  • detention
  • transporting
  • detention

that is, for each step of the process, including the detention as a result of the importation.

Further, in evaluating “humaneness” in all of these steps as to each individual animal, while no hard line exists in the regulation to quantify the mortality numbers that would be instructive in making this determination, it would be reasonable of NOAA to find that a high percentage of mortality may indicate that one of those stages was, in fact, inhumane.

In the not quite seven years that the Georgia Aquarium has been open to the public, it has detained, held in “detention,” nine beluga whales.

Four of them are now dead.

I urge NOAA to consider the life-cycle, if you will, embodied in the term “take” and deny the Georgia Aquarium’s application to import 18 wild beluga whales.

Thank you.

So, for those who were not present at the hearing, let me just say that it was so good to be among those who are giving their all to protect the rights of whales and dolphins to live free lives, to live their life in the wild, as they were created and designed by this magnificent world.

Please leave a comment for NOAA on the NOAA website or by other methods explained on the website, expressing why NOAA must deny the permit, making it, you know I’m gonna say it, the MOST COMMENTED-ON FEDERAL REGISTER NOTICE EVER!

Beluga whales in the wild

Belugas in the wild live in familial and social groups with, quite frankly, more stability and longevity than those for most humans.

13 responses to “Humaneness of “taking” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act

  1. Please stop the import of the Beluga whales. These beautiful sentient animals need to stay free in their home the ocean. It has been proven over & over in time that they should not be in captivity. How many more will die. They will if you keep capturing them & exporting them. They are not disposable. They are a living & breathing mammal that has feelings like humans & lives with their family throughout their entire life. So, please find a place in your heart & reconsider this.

  2. Beautiful, Martha! Thank you for being there. Thank you for sharing this with us. Thank you for being You!

  3. Kimberly Anderson

    To : Georgia Aquarium -USA From Kim Anderson, USA
    I truly hope you can begin to comprehend that current plans to “take” (capture, restrain, detain) more Belugas from their natural environments transcends personal entitlements….and, as humans beings, our responsibilities to these endangered creatures. ~ Impressions of yourselves and the once respected and popular Georgia Aquarium appear to have become entitlement, greed, abuse, non-caring, and financially driven postures… or, simply put, a business doing what ever is needed to try and make money. Today, as in no other historic time, awareness is heightened and attitudes greatly altered; the exposure and publicity received by your facility is such that…as you are aware,…financial profits and personal affinities are ultimately significantly endangered and it appears foolish to continually take these unnecessary risks. Change your direction before spoils are excessive to the degree that your resputation and name are also closely linked to Taiji Japan and the like. This day in age, many have lost interest in the animal kingdoms as they do not want to” cross picket lines”‘, and have so many entertainment alternatives with which to fill their lives. Focus on that which does not have such unrelenting strong emotional ties and will not go away; leave the mammals where they were meant to be…….free in the open sea. Protect yourselves and the business you have worked so stringently to develop.
    Your considerations are appreciated .

  4. where do we comment???? its not clear!!!!

  5. Pingback: Don’t Let Georgia Aquarium Import Wild Belugas! – Part 2 | Gini's Nature News

  6. Please leave the wild in the wild. These whales, as well as the dolphins, do not belong in an aquarium, no matter how beautiful you have made it. There is no way to replicate their natural home and the whale’s natural behavior will not occur in your environment. If you truly love these animals, leave them alone and admire their awesomeness from afar.

    Thank you,

    Iris Mead

  7. Iris – please leave your comment on the NOAA website, if you have not done so already.

  8. Hi there. My name is Amanda Brooks and I am a journalist with CNN. I am working on covering this story and am looking for folks like you who are passionate on this issue and can present your view. Would you be willing to do an interview? Please e-mail me. It would be great to have you on, especially since you testified.amanda.brooks@turner.com LET ME KNOW ASAP!! Would love to have you.

    • I would be happy to, Amanda. We are lucky to have an neurobiologist and expert in cetacean brains here in Atlanta, Dr. Lori Marino, a professor at Emory University. While I can’t speak for her availability, I know that she has been interviewed and has also testified before Congress on the issue marine mammal captivity. I will forward your inquiry on to her, and contact you via email.

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