Well done, America. Well done, World.
At 8,906, the Georgia Aquarium’s application to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales didn’t quite make it to . . . THE MOST COMMENTED-ON FEDERAL REGISTER NOTICE EVER. But it was most commented-on Federal Register notice of a National Ocean & Atmospheric Administration import permit at least as far back as 2000, according to Jennifer Skidmore, who is the NOAA Fishery Management Specialist managing the Georgia Aquarium’s import permit. NOAA is, as of this week, still receiving comments the old-fashioned way, via the mail system, so the count is actually even higher. Pretty rocking result.
But during this deliberation period, the infotainment machine keeps humming, turning out story after story that implies validity in the Georgia Aquarium’s efforts to import wild beluga whales from Russia. In one such story and video by 11Alive News, Billy Hurley, the Chief Animal Officer for the Georgia Aquarium, discounts the deep objection that the people have to ever capturing whales and dolphins for the aquarium biz. But of course he would. He likes to point out the millions of people come into the Georgia Aquarium. What he doesn’t say is that those millions are lured in by advertising, by telling them, like the little boy in the video shown on Friday, November 4, 2012, that the Georgia Aquarium keeps them “safe”. That little boy, like the millions, believe that.
In contrast to the aquarium industry’s story machine, Dr. Lori Marino, Emory professor, neuroscientist, and the Director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, commented on yesterday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, reflecting the lack of understanding – on the part of either the reporter or Mr. Hurley – of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The article observes, inaccurately, that the “Marine Mammal Protection Act establishes that the display of belugas and other cetaceans can improve their welfare by educating the public about threats to the species, which can in turn promote conservation efforts. . .” Not so. The Act’s actual language – perhaps pesky for the Georgia Aquarium – states that permits may be issued, but only to those facilities that “offer a program for education or conservation purposes. . .” Whether the Georgia Aquarium’s dolphin show or exhibit fulfills the requirement of offering an educational or conservation program is a factual determination. At least two aquariums, the National Aquarium and Sea Life Center, stated their objection to the issuance of the import permit to the Georgia Aquarium.
Becky Pugh, of Free the Atlanta 11, notes another of the fallacies in the Georgia Aquarium’s reasons for wanting the import, but about which the full-court press doesn’t inquire, “For example; why is it necessary to replenish the captive beluga stock in the U.S.? The U.S. has had belugas in captivity for decades. If they do so well, what would be the need to replenish them?”
Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine biologist, also commented on the article, pointing out that, “Respected marine mammal biologists oppose this import proposal, not based on emotion but because of concerns about the animals’ welfare during capture and transport, the impact of captures on beluga matrilines (family groups), and the disruption captures cause to the groups’ social relationships. More than 30 scientists submitted a comment to the National Marine Fisheries Service opposing this import proposal.”
But if scientists know this, and more than 30 objected to the Georgia Aquarium’s import permit, why don’t Billy Hurley’s Millions know it?
Millions of people are lured by advertising into eating, drinking, smoking, and even wearing against their better interest. Anyone who survived the 80s knows that we can convinced of just about anything. 80s hair? Nuff said. That
Mister Hurley finds attendance numbers indicative of anything other than 80s hair marketing tells me that, once again, he is not thinking about the marine creatures who have been entrusted into his care, but is looking at numbers and box office and return on investment for their “assets“.
So, what is the Georgia Aquarium teaching? What is the 80s hair marketing, as pronounced at the Georgia Aquarium, teaching the public that crosses its doors?
By my count in the 11Alive news story, visitors at the beluga tank learned
- that whales jump up and go back down;
- that whales are playful, social and fascinating to watch;
- that the point is to have a “favorite” in the aquarium;
- that it is trying to ensure research and educational opportunities (maybe the definition of “research” is a little skewed here, too, if you get my drift);
- that aquariums keep the whales safe (I’m imagining that the Georgia Aquarium isn’t telling the story about the nearly 50% mortality of belugas in captivity in the U.S.);
- that whales in an aquarium translates to preserving their natural, marine environment
An older home video shot at the Georgia Aquarium, but no longer available, showed that the Georgia Aquarium experience taught children that dolphin ownership was okayand that wanting to own one, to have one in his own pool, was acceptable. That’s what keeping whales and dolphins in captivity teaches our children – not conservation.
As to the Georgia Aquarium’s attempts to link research or conservation with this import, Dr. Rose pointed out in her comment ” . . . there is no logical link to [the Georgia Aquarium’s] support for research and this import proposal. It can support field work and even captive research without actually displaying belugas itself.”
As we await the decision by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s decision on the Georgia Aquarium’s beluga whale import permit application, educate yourself about marine mammal captivity. Recognize that what people are learning is of insufficient value to offset the right of these self-aware creatures to continue to live in their families and community groups in the wide expanse of the ocean.
Continue to object to the beluga import. Write letters to your local newspapers, wherever you live. Leave comments on any newspaper articles – as did those who commented on the AJC article – so that the public has an opportunity to hear why the import permit is unacceptable. Speak out. Be heard. Or the full-court “press” will continue and Billy Hurley will throw you in with his millions, saying that you support keeping these majestic ocean-swelling beings in captivity.