Tag Archives: beluga

The Georgia Aquarium and The Art of War

The Georgia Aquarium has announced that it will not appeal the decision of Judge Amy Totenberg in Georgia Aquarium v Pritzker.  Resounding huzzahs were heard in all camps of those opposing captivity.  Feelings nearing jubilation and celebration of victory were shared across social media.

The Georgia Aquarium fights to import wild beluga whales.

The Georgia Aquarium stands down on this phase to import wild beluga whales.

The Georgia Aquarium’s decision not to appeal, however, came as no surprise, and signals little more than that the management at the aquarium was listening to legal counsel.  Its chances of overturning Judge Totenberg’s decision were miniscule, if that.  And so the Georgia Aquarium merely decided that standing down on this permit appeal was the right decision in this war over marine mammal captivity.  The Georgia Aquarium claimed that the appeal would have been costly; this much is true.  It does not say that the appeal would have been futile, but that, too, is most likely true as well.

When the Georgia Aquarium acknowledges that continuing the appeal “would not be in the best interest of the animals in Russia,” it likely means something different than what marine mammal advocates consider “best interest.” Does the Georgia Aquarium intend to step away from its stated goal of creating “a sustainable population of belugas at accredited zoological facilities in North America?”  Notably, its statement did not go that far.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

We are waging a war against captivity. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

So, to the celebrants I say, as we claim a tactical victory, study the art of war.  Consider where and how this announcement plays in the overall war.  Know that this victory came as a result of little more than the Georgia Aquarium’s arrogance and feeling of entitlement at stealing wild animals from the ocean and importing them into the United States and of the system of laws working.  Appreciate the possibility that the Georgia Aquarium learned something valuable to itself in this war and how to play in the next battle, a battle that may not invoke a “taking”, a battle that may not involve a “Near Threatened” species.

Prepare yourself for the next battle.

Because it will come.

Beluga Cousteau quote

Google indoctrinates Title I students about marine mammal captivity

While I have come to expect that the Georgia Aquarium and other marine parks will come after our children in many ways, from discounted to free tickets, I was surprised to see that Google – an innovator and pioneer in searching on the internet – would participate in propping up the outdated concept of  marine mammal captivity.

The Georgia Aquarium gets them early with Toddler Time. Photo: Georgia Aquarium

The Georgia Aquarium gets them early with Toddler Time. Photo: Georgia Aquarium

From free admission for a toddler with a heavily discounted adult fare during “Toddler Time” to free admission on your birthday, the Georgia Aquarium finds many ways to attract children and their parents.  Now they, along with Google, are exploiting, not only marine mammals, but also those children who are, the theory goes, less likely to be exposed to the natural world.  The solution of Google and the Georgia Aquarium?  Take them to see captive animals on a “one of a kind field trip.”

Google sponsors a "one of a kind field trip" to the Georgia Aquarium

Google sponsors a “one of a kind field trip” to the Georgia Aquarium. Image from the Georgia Aquarium blog.

They may be right about that.  A “one of kind field trip.”  But what is that “kind”?  First and foremost, they are taking children to an unnatural experience but teaching them that it is natural.

No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal.  – Jacques Cousteau

Marine captivity is not naturalWhat the Georgia Aquarium, and now google and educators, turn a blind eye to is the observation of one of the world’s foremost marine environment educators, Jacques Cousteau.  Cousteau knew, by virtue of experiencing the marine environment first-hand, that keeping marine mammals in captivity was not natural.

That the Georgia Aquarium continues to entice educators (because who doesn’t love a field trip) into thinking that they are witnessing the natural world when they see a beluga or dolphin or whale shark in a tank, it’s, well, it’s worse than a damn shame.  It is a lie.

One of the educators who, in good faith no doubt, brought her students to the Georgia Aquarium said,

One of the things that I’ve seen, and I’ve taught for 28 years, the biggest part I’ve seen is I can teach them all day and tell them about it, but actually experiencing it, seeing it and doing it, brings it to life. . . You catch ’em with a book, but you hook ’em with an experience.

And that is precisely the point.  The children have now been hooked into thinking – without realizing that their thinking has been hooked – that marine mammal captivity is natural, that it is acceptable – and this is the one view that all who support marine mammal captivity have in common.  Some may like the beluga whales more, some the dolphins; but they all accept tanks as part of the deal.

The human-nonhuman bond.  One has only to watch the Georgia Aquarium’s video of the #googleweek event to see the glee on the part of the students.  It was a field tip.  It was a field trip to see animals.  The connection, the bond, between human and non-human animals is vast and deep.  Humans are nearly always moved by an experience of or interaction with a nonhuman animal.  And now, the hearts of those students were “set” by that moving experience, and that experience taught them, at least most of them, that captivity is a wondrous thing.  While that “setness” is not irreversible, as many are coming to learn, so long as the aquarium industry has its way, it certainly will be.

The impact?  So, now that you know, watch the promotion of the event by the Georgia Aquarium and Google, and witness, firsthand, your own “field trip” to indoctrination into thinking that marine mammal captivity is natural, is acceptable, is good.

No education exists within the mind of man than can justify the enslavement of dolphins.

No education exists within the mind of man than can justify the enslavement of dolphins.

What is the alternativeCatch the inspiration in the children in the video below.  No exploitation involved. Google, in particular, should be able to appreciate that a technology that inspires without exploitation makes a better future for our children.

And hold onto your Inspire Hat for this one:

A field trip to your local wildlife rehabilitation center where they learn a true respect for wildlife is certainly a better, and ethical, alternative.

There is no circumstance in which one can take his or her children to see dolphins, whales or other large migratory marine animals in aquariums, marine parks or swim-withs without letting in the silent specter of “captivity is good.”

What you can do: Contact Google wherever you live and tell them that captivity for marine mammals is not okay and that it is unacceptable to exploit marine mammals under the guise of a field trip of exploitation masquerading as an interaction with nature.

A few Google locations:

  • Headquarters, Mountain View, CA: 1 650-253-0000
  • Ann Arbor, MI: 1 734-332-6500
  • Atlanta, GA: 1 404-487-9000
  • Austin, TX: 1 512-343-5283
  • Cambridge, MA: 1 617-575-1300
  • Chicago, IL: 1 312-840-4100
  • Detroit, MI: 1 248-593-4000
  • Irvine, CA: 1 949-794-1600
  • Kirkland, WA: 1 425-739-5600
  • Los Angeles, CA: 1 310-310-6000
  • New York, NY: 1 212-565-0000
  • San Francisco, CA: 1 415-736-0000
  • Seattle, WA: 1 206-876-1800
  • Washington, DC: 1 202-346-1100
  • Beijing: +86-10-62503000
  • Belo Horizonte: +55-31-2128-6800
  • Dubai: +971 4 4509500
  • Hong Kong: +852-3923-5400
  • London: +44 (0)20-7031-3000
  • Madrid: +34 91-748-6400
  • Mexico: +52 55-5342-8400
  • Moscow: +7-495-644-1400
  • Paris: +33 (0)1 42 68 53 00
  • Sydney: +61 2 9374 4000
  • Tokyo: +81-3-6384-9000

Light up Google switchboards and tell them to stop supporting this antiquated and exploitative partnership with the Georgia Aquarium.

Maris died after being an experiment in life and death

The death of beluga whale Maris came as a shock to us all, including the Georgia Aquarium.  But the Georgia Aquarium knows what it rarely shouts from its tank-covering rooftops:  the beluga whale captivity industry is dying, just as surely as are “its” beluga whales.

Dying it is.  But becoming “extinct”?  Whether calculated to mislead the American public or not, the Georgia Aquarium has used the word “extinction”, generally known to characterize wild populations only, to describe the beluga whales in captivity.  It is obvious that this is a misuse of the term, but it is, however, true that the captive beluga whale industry is declining and dying, along with the 35 or so beluga whales now held in U.S. aquaria, and the only saving grace for this industry is, apparently, the influx of wild blood.

One need look no further for evidence of this industry’s death than the Georgia Aquarium’s own statement.

Because of the extraordinary, long-term care beluga whales receive at accredited zoological organizations like Georgia Aquarium, this birth is significant as it is the first viable calf to be born from parents who were born in human care. Maris was born at the New York Aquarium in 1994, and the father, Beethoven, was born at SeaWorld San Antonio in 1992.

Here the Georgia Aquarium revealed that there has not yet been a beluga calf successfully born in captivity who was born to parents who were both born in captivity.  I hope you got that.  Not one.  Not a single successful birth to a captive-born couple.

We’ll tell you the truth now. Even though the Georgia Aquarium was elated to announce that Maris’ second calf was considered “viable” – a significant milestone in the ongoing “experiment” to figure out how to breed captive beluga whale calves – the calf died after only 26 days in the tank at the Georgia Aquarium.  In the run-up to both of Maris’ calves’ births, the Georgia Aquarium spent far more time pointing out the high mortality rate, even among wild beluga whales, for first-born calves, and, as far as I can tell, told the public this significant factoid (that not once had a calf born of two captive-born beluga whales survived) only after they thought they had one who would survive.  So, why the consistent omission of this significant fact?  Notably, they did not mention it when the calf died, demurring to the “statistical probability of survival.”  Is this just another example of the “smoke and mirrors” that Judge Totenberg observed on the part of the Georgia Aquarium (Georgia Aquarium v Pritzker, at page 98)?

Maris giving birth on May 10, 2015, to her second female calf, considered viable. Neither are alive today.

Maris giving birth on May 10, 2015, at the Georgia Aquarium to her second female calf, who was considered viable. Neither are alive today.

Nowhere in the recent statements to the press does the Georgia Aquarium acknowledge this significant fact.

So, what to do? Capture! Import! It is little wonder, then, that the Georgia Aquarium took the unprecedented initiative to spearhead an effort to import 18 wild-caught belugas into the United States to add to the U.S. broodstock.  Eighteen: more than all the  wild-caught beluga whales currently-held in the United States.  To allow more successful breeding.  To maintain an industry.  To continue to feed the public the notion that it has a “right” to see them in tanks.  To “love” them so much that visitors will once again grace the turnstiles of the aquarium, season pass or no.

But right?  Entitlement?  As correctly and succinctly summarized by Judge Amy Totenberg in her Order in the case of Georgia Aquarium v Pritzker, at page 76:

In addition, Georgia Aquarium’s arguments presume that — contrary to the express purpose of the MMPA — the limited exceptions for public display and scientific research permits in section 1374 opened the floodgates for unfettered importation of marine mammals.  Nowhere does the MMPA “allow[] for the
continuing import of marine mammals for public display in the United States” or the unfettered right to such importation.  (Doc. 55-1 at 49) (emphasis in original).

The Georgia Aquarium knows that the beluga whale captive industry is dying in the United States, just as surely as have all the calves born to two captive born parents.  And now, the Georgia Aquarium has been schooled that it has no “unfettered right” to grab wild beluga whales to prop up the display industrym and it should stop sending any such signals to the public.

The future of the captive beluga whale industry is dying because United States aquariums hold only a handful of wild-caught beluga whales, and of these, only three are males.

  • Ferdinand, M, SeaWorld San Diego, caught 1975
  • Naluark, M. Mystic Aquarium, caught 1992
  • Imaq, M, SeaWorld Texas, caught 1990
  • Natasha, F, SeaWorld Texas, caught 1984
  • Mauyak, F, John G. Shedd Aquarium, caught 1984
  • Martha, F, SeaWorld Texas, caught 1988
  • Crissy, F, SeaWorld Texas, caught 1988
  • Allua, F, SeaWorld Texas, caught 1985
  • Kela, F, Mystic Aquarium, caught 1985
  • Naya, F, John G. Shedd Aquarium, caught 1992

This is certainly not the stable of studs and broodmares that the aquarium industry needs to build a genetically diverse, and therefore, robust, population of captive beluga whales, and the industry knows this.  For this reason, and perhaps others that only it knows, the Georgia Aquarium tried to import those 18 wild-caught beluga whales.  But its effort has failed, in failing to demonstrate that its import would not negatively impact the wild populations from which it may have hoped to extract fresh genes and better odds at reproduction.

It is impossible to speak about a dying industry without also coming to terms with the fates of 35 or so captive beluga whales in the United States.  As those in support of the Georgia Aquarium often say, “whales die.”  You just won’t hear me say, as they have done, “that’s life; get over it.”  I grieve for both the living and the dying captives.  But in particular, I grieve for the mothers who are used as part of a failing experiment to successfully breed a captive beluga whale born of captive-born parents.

So, how many more times must female captive-born beluga whales experience the death of a calf, being used as part of the aquarium industry’s Experiment in Breeding, before the public says, “enough is enough?”  Will the death of Maris and her two calves be enough?

I do not know if it will, but it should.

Rest in peace, Maris.

Rest in peace, Maris.

Rest in peace, Maris.

Aqua Vino is wine with a cause: marine mammal captivity

The Georgia Aquarium fights to import wild beluga whales.The Georgia Aquarium is promoting its 10th annual fundraiser, Aqua Vino Nights.  According to the Georgia Aquarium, the event offers an opportunity to “witness the remarkable behavior of social animals and socialites” for the ticket price of $150 to $325 (Georgia Aquarium members pay less), for a cause.  The Georgia Aquarium says that the cause is its important southern sea otter research conservation initiatives.  But what other cause does the event support?

Aqua Vino Nights: exploiting some marine mammals to "conserve" others

Aqua Vino Nights: exploiting some marine mammals to “conserve” others

If one traces the money trail for the Georgia Aquarium’s various “initiatives”, he may find a direct trail supporting the aquarium’s claims.  But what of the less direct (or, rather, less obvious) trail?  What does one find?  In the Georgia Aquarium’s own words, one will find “remarkable . . . social animals” held for a lifetime of captivity, doing tricks for a paying public.

Beluga whales captured and held in tanks in Russia awaiting their "disposition." Photo credit M. Lanovoy

Beluga whales captured and held in tanks in Russia awaiting their “disposition.” Photo credit M. Lanovoy

Beluga WhalesOne will find the beluga whales and dolphins housed in concrete tanks, including the window in the Georgia Aquarium ballroom which allows guests to party down while watching the beluga whales.  These whales, who in the wild swim in family and community groups of tens to hundreds and traverse hundreds of miles in regular migration in Arctic waters, are relegated to a morbidly small tank. In its short operation time, four beluga whales have died (the link does not include the death in 2015 of Maris’ latest calf) in the Georgia Aquarium’s tank, and one, Nico, died in 2009 about three weeks after being transported to SeaWorld of Texas.

Despite its morbidity record, or perhaps because of it, the Georgia Aquarium is seeking to import 18 wild-caught Russian beluga whales.  The aquarium awaits the decision of Federal District Judge Amy Totenberg, following an August 14, 2015, hearing in which NOAA, the Georgia Aquarium and intervenors Animal Welfare Institute, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Cetacean Institute International and others presented their arguments for summary judgment.

Georgia Aquarium would steal these lives

Beluga whales in Russian waters. The scale may difficult to grasp, but not so difficult that life in a tank is revealed to be a horrid life sentence.  Image from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Anyone who has seen the beluga whales up close at the Georgia Aquarium will undoubtedly come away with a sense of wonder.  “Wonder” is exactly what its customers should be doing.  They should wonder why aquariums and marine parks exploit certain species while claiming that captivity and exploitation of “remarkable . . . social animals” are necessary to conserve?

The beluga tank serves as a backdrop to the Georgia Aquarium's ballroom.

The beluga tank serves as a backdrop to the Georgia Aquarium’s ballroom. Photo from the Georgia Aquarium flickr photos.

DolphinsAnd then there are the dolphins, another of the “remarkable . . . social animals” whom the Georgia Aquarium keeps captive.  The Georgia Aquarium currently holds 13 dolphins in its tank system, including five who were shipped from SeaWorld San Diego on May 13, 2014, but excluding

Shaka, wild-caught, shipped from the Georgia Aquarium to Marineland Florida on December 9, 2013.

Shaka, wild-caught, shipped from the Georgia Aquarium to Marineland Florida on December 9, 2013.  Photo from Dolphin Quest.

Shaka and Lily, who were part of the original eleven dolphins at the Georgia Aquarium, subsequently shipped to its Marineland location on December 9, 2013.

These 15 currently-alive dolphins tell only a thinly-veiled version of the story.  Behind that thin veil are the thousands of dolphins who have been captured (or bred from those captured) by the aquarium and marine park industry.  Marineland Florida, now owned by the Georgia Aquarium, was one of the first of such attractions in the United States.  Its 14 currently-living dolphins, including two who were captured in the early 1970s, mask a record of death that will shock anyone except the callous.  A 2004 report by the Sun-Sentinel noted that “Seaquarium has lost 64 of 89 dolphins since 1972.  Of those whose age could be determined, more than half died at 10 or younger, including 16 in their first year.”  And that was 2004.  (Because the required record-keeping (16 U.S.C. §1374(c)(10)) is unattached to any meaningful enforcement, one wonders whether it is reasonable to have confidence in the accuracy and timeliness of the records, which are accessible via the Freedom of Information Act.)

Capturing for the aquarium and marine park industry.  While the Georgia Aquarium fights to be able to import wild-caught marine mammals, other parts of the world do not have to wage the same fight to capture them.  Even killing them en masse, intentionally, during the capture process is permitted.  In Taiji, Japan, they do not capture beluga whales because Taiji is not located in the Arctic; they capture, and kill, the marine mammals that migrate in its waters.

On September 18, 2015, a community of 75 to 80 bottlenose dolphins were herded in a “drive hunt” into a small cove.  For two days, family members were ripped from one another, with the ones prettiest and deemed most suitable for displays taken for the aquarium and marine park industry.  Fifty, or approximately two-thirds of the community, was captured in a process that is neither humane nor sustainable.

Dolphins thrash in panic as the Taiji dolphin hunters attempt to separate dolphins into "takes" and "not takes." Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Dolphins thrash in panic as the Taiji dolphin hunters attempt to separate dolphins into “takes” and “not takes.” Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

This photo and others taken by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reveal some of the terror that the capturing process causes in the dolphins.  While we do not know what dolphins “feel”, we do know that members of the closely-knit dolphin communities will fight to stay together, even at their own risk, during this process.  Yesterday’s image of the dolphin mother and calf being separated so that the mother could be taken into captivity is horrific to an ethical human.  The calf, not taken with his mother, is now condemned to whatever “life” can reasonably be expected, without the relationship with his mother that would have taught him survival skills.

Dolphins are trapped under a net in the process of capturing, subduing and separating dolphins for the aquarium industry. Photo credit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Dolphins are trapped under a net in the process of capturing, subduing and separating dolphins for the aquarium industry. Photo credit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt quota. Image and data compilation from Cetabase on Facebook.

Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt quota. Image and data compilation from Cetabase on Facebook.

But to an aquarium industry and its supporters (ticket-purchasers) this mother-calf separation is invisible.  The predictable death of the calf will not be noted in a statistic anywhere, certainly not in the quota allowed by the Japanese Fisheries Ministry.  His death and the fate of the pod decimated by the Taiji dolphin hunters will fade into oblivion.  It will certainly not be reported by the industry that will be profitable only so long as facts such as these remain hidden from view.

The entire aquarium and marine park industry is culpable.  The U.S. aquarium and marine park industry likes to proclaim, while it neglects to mention or even abandons the current effort of the Georgia Aquarium, that it no longer captures marine mammals from the wild.  Further, it attempts to distance itself from the Taiji hunt.  It does not want the paying public to connect the dots, but it is without question that the world aquarium and marine park industry has fashioned itself on the U.S. model of shows to attract the public to its turnstiles. The boom of U.S. aquariums that started in the 1950s and 1960s is only beginning in the rest of the world.  China, Japan, the Middle East, islands of the Caribbean and elsewhere are busy playing catch-up to the mature U.S. industry.

But what has been revealed in the 50-plus years since the U.S. boom is that dolphins and whales are not suited to captivity.  The statistics alone tell the tale.  But these statistics and the stories behind them have been distilled into films and books that make the institution of marine mammal captivity anything but the benign image portrayed by the display industry.  Films like Blackfish, A Fall from Freedom, Saving Flipper, A Whale of a Business, Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered, the to-be-released Born to be Free, and the Oscar-winning The Cove present the truth about an exploitative industry that should have been retired long before 2015.  Books like Orca: The Whale Called Killer, Death at SeaWorld, Beneath the Surface and Of Orcas and Men fill in more details than can be captured in films.  All of them reveal that the fascination with whales and dolphins in captivity is a morbid one

The aquarium and marine park industry is, however, profitable.  Highly so.  And as long as the public continues to pass through the cha-ching of the turnstile, the industry will continue to exploit dolphins and other marine mammals.  The world aquarium and marine park industry, modeled after the U.S., uses dolphins and other marine mammals as replaceable, fungible attractions, much as the U.S. industry did in its early years, in a cycle of unending capture.  In the U.S., aquariums and marine parks are beginning to feel the tide of history turning, thanks to the efforts of non-governmental organizations, authors and film-makers.  The National Aquarium, for instance, ended its dolphin shows in 2014, but rumors of its ending dolphin captivity have not come to fruition.  Yet.

Conservation is the new favorite word. In its efforts to “stay current” and face down the growing awareness of the horror of captivity for marine mammals, the U.S. aquarium and marine park industry is attempting to associate, in the public’s mind, captivity with conservation.  “We do good works” is the new mantra.  “Come to the aquarium and take part in conservation.” But the fact remains, and it is a fact, that it is the dolphin or beluga attraction that keeps the money flowing.  The advertisement for the Aqua Vino event at the top of this post makes this perfectly clear.  It is another fact, also born out by this event, that the conservation efforts of the aquarium industry are mainly focused on other species, not the main attractions.  The new message to the public is that we must exploit to do good.  But we are better and smarter than that.  We know that there need be no link between the two.  And we also know that if they are linked, the money for conservation is tainted with the morbid lives of sacrificed individuals.

Aqua Vino may be an event for a cause.  But that cause is marine mammal captivity.

Beluga Cousteau quote

Trailer for Born to be Free:

Are two calf deaths enough, Georgia Aquarium?

Another captive-born baby beluga has died at the Georgia Aquarium, and the Georgia Aquarium welcomes your “positive thoughts and support.”

Georgia Aquarium beluga calf died

Follow the bouncing focus: on the Georgia Aquarium.  The baby’s death is a loss “for the entire Aquarium.”

While I do not doubt that the Georgia Aquarium staff and other “experts” worked around-the-clock at trying to save this baby, pardon me if I am less than likely to send my condolences and kind words to an institution that bred two beluga whales for the sole purpose of building its stable of slaves.

But lest Maris’ loss be confused with human couples who continue to attempt to have a child, even in the face of miscarriage, let me say to you, do not go there.

I repeat, do not go there.

Maris shares nothing, as in, zippo, zilch, nada, with a human couple who chooses to attempt to bring a child into the world, and who has the full suite of choices in giving that child the best life possible.  Maris and Beethoven, who the Georgia Aquarium reports conceived naturally, had no such choices.

Maris didn’t have a choice in the 25 to 40 minutes per day that the baby nursed.  She didn’t have a choice when staff stood between her and her baby.

Georgia Aquarium Maris beluga calf dies

Unnamed baby girl at the Georgia Aquarium. Photo from AJC.

She didn’t have a choice in the formula that the Georgia Aquarium fed her baby, the one that “mimicked” beluga milk.

Maris didn’t have a choice in anything at all, and neither would the baby girl, had she survived.

Make no mistake, Georgia Aquarium.  Those who are opposed to captivity are grieving for Maris’ loss, but we do not grieve for yours.

What you can do:

Stand with us at Empty the Tanks to call for an end to the institution of marine mammal captivity.

  • When: Saturday, June 6, 2015; noon to 3pm
  • Where: Georgia Aquarium, 225 Baker St., Atlanta, GA

NOAA learns the Marine Mammal Protection Act

What some may consider a trifling matter, I find to be a “tell” of the thinking at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service.  One cannot say with certainty what this “tell” indicates, but since NOAA is responsible for defending its decision to deny the Georgia Aquarium a permit to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales, I can’t say whether I find the tell comforting or disturbing.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) states that

There shall be a moratorium on the taking and importation of marine mammals . . . during which time no permit may be issued for the taking of any marine mammal . . .. except in the following cases . . . MMPA Section 101, 16 U.S.C. §1371.

In contrast with the above text (that is, what the MMPA actually states), the MMPA does not state that there shall be a system to allow the importation of wild-caught cetaceans, which will be denied in only limited circumstances.   The gap between the actual language and this contrasting, but nonexistent, version highlights the purpose of the MMPA:  to protect marine mammals in their homes, in their habitats, with a primary objective to “maintain the health and stability of the marine ecosystem.” 16 U.S.C. §1361.

So, consider the two contrasting images of the NOAA webpage for the Georgia Aquarium’s request to import 18 wild-caught Russian beluga whales, the first taken on March 1, 2015, and the second, taken during the 2012 public comment period on the Georgia Aquarium’s import application.

NOAA website, image captured March 1, 2015, with an opening statement that is consistent with the MMPA.

NOAA website, image captured March 1, 2015, with an opening statement that is consistent with the MMPA.

Text in the above image correctly highlights the prohibitive nature of the MMPA, which provides “limited exceptions” for the taking of marine mammals.

Look, however, at the following image of NOAA’s opening statement on the same webpage, captured on September 6, 2012, during the public comment period of the Georgia Aquarium’s import request.  Perhaps you might agree that the message of the NOAA website reveals a basic misunderstanding of the MMPA, even if it correctly reflected that of, at least, the NOAA webmaster.

NOAA webpage, image captured September 6, 2012.  The opening paragraph paints a rather more permissive system of cetacean importation than the one defined by law.

NOAA webpage, image captured September 6, 2012. The opening paragraph paints a more permissive system of cetacean importation than the one defined by law.  Paints an “allowing” system, rather the existing “prohibitive with exceptions” system.

It is in these kind of details, or tells, that the mindset of government is revealed.  But lest I appear ungrateful, let me be clear that I am glad that NOAA is learning the MMPA.

I just  hope that it wasn’t too late for any one of the 18 beluga whales who were snatched from Russian waters.

We await the decision of the Federal District Court, heard in August 2014.

If marriage is about domination, then propose at the Georgia Aquarium

D. Geller & Sons has a new “marriage proposal tip” and has picked what it touts as the perfect venue for a marriage proposal.  Geller’s new ad promotes the Georgia Aquarium, where both the “ring and the proposal” will be “breathtaking”.  Interesting choice of words, since life for the beluga whales, dolphins and other captives who live their lives in a tank, is anything but.

If one considers the foundations of marriage, the Georgia Aquarium should be the last place for a proposal of a lifetime of love and respect, since the aquarium has been spearheading the effort to reverse 20 years of U.S. aquarium policy and practice by attempting to take wild beluga whales and relegate them to a lifetime of captivity.  NOAA, which is empowered to administer the Marine Mammal Protection Act, denied the Georgia Aquarium’s import application in 2013 and the Georgia Aquarium promptly filed a lawsuit to have this decision overturned.  The Court decision has not yet been announced.

If marriage is about respect and love, and I think that we all believe that to be true, the Georgia Aquarium shouldn’t even make the long list, let alone the short one, of venues to start that life-long relationship.  If, however, marriage is about domination, deprivation of one’s birthright, exploitation, and keeping your spouse locked up in one room with no key, then . . .

I recommend that D. Geller & Sons rethink this ad, and pull it.

For more information: https://awionline.org/cases/protection-beluga-whales


Does the Georgia Aquarium understand “extinction”?

The Georgia Aquarium uses the term “extinction” in its recent petition to garner support for taking wild belugas out of the ocean and putting them into tanks.  Whether the Georgia Aquarium understands extinction is not clear.  But there are only two options:

  • A) It does; or
  • B) It does not
Will the Georgia Aquarium's use of the term "extinction" mislead the public?

Will the Georgia Aquarium’s use of the term “extinction” mislead the public?

In its petition, the Aquarium states, “Unfortunately, with fewer than 35 belugas in accredited aquariums in North America, this population of animals in human care is facing certain extinction.”

So, let’s walk through this statement in order to help us understand the message that the Georgia Aquarium is sending to the public:

Extinction: “In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms (taxon), normally a species.” (From Wikipedia).

Population of animals in human care (in accredited aquariums in North America):  While the notion of “population extinction” is a credible component of species extinction, it was never intended to describe an artificial, man-made assemblage of animals extracted from wild populations and inserted into a captive display program.  As described in 1993 by Paul Erlich and Gretchen Daily, population extinction is most commonly viewed geographically and in two aspects.  These two aspects are a demographic unit and a mendelian population.  As noted by Erlich and Daily, a demographic unit is “simply an interbreeding group sufficiently isolated from other interbreeding groups so that changes in size do not greatly influence the size of nearby groups, and vice-versa.”  The other group, the mendelian population, “is, in essence, a genetically defined entity that can evolve independently of other such units . . .”

So, does the Georgia Aquarium understand that neither of these definitions was intended to encompass an artificial assemblage of captive animals in a “collection”?  I don’t know the answer to that.  In either event, however, this use of the term is inappropriate, and the Georgia Aquarium should resist its further use in its judicial challenge to NOAA’s denial, on its webpage, in tours at the Aquarium, and in petitions directed at a public who tends to learn much of what it knows about marine mammals from aquariums.  I will add, though, that I find it disconcerting to think that it actually might not understand extinction since it claims “conservation” and “education” as its goals.  Oops.

In the wide and wild world, there is but one beluga population that is, in fact, endangered, being listed on the United States’ List of Endangered Species as well as on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.  That population is the Cook’s Inlet beluga whale group, which is a demographic unit and possibly also mendelian, whose ongoing plight was caused largely by “over-harvesting”.  Efforts are underway to protect that population, despite recent threats.

While it bears noting that some captive programs utilize aggressive breeding to prevent species-wide extinction where the wild populations are in danger, we humans should not extract wild animals from healthy, wild populations in order to preserve the captive one.  And where we do, we do not invent a fiction that we are doing so to prevent “extinction”.

From MarinelandCanada.com

From MarinelandCanada.com

Short sidebar:  The Georgia Aquarium’s petition notes that there are fewer than 35 beluga whales held in North American accredited aquariums.  This must exclude the 45 beluga whales held at Marineland Canada.  I didn’t realize that Marineland was not accredited.  I think we should leave this issue to the two aquariums to address.  Whether it should have been is another matter.

But back to the point, whether or not the Georgia Aquarium includes the Marineland whales, it would be inappropriate to consider the concept of “extinction” anywhere in this debate over whether the Georgia Aquarium should be allowed to invigorate the international capturing of wild marine mammals for the aquarium industry.

Don’t take the bait.  And I promise I won’t use the term “extinct” in my wish that all facilities that hold marine mammals go the way of the dinosaur.

Beluga Whales in Chukchi Sea, Alaska. Photo credit Laura Morse, NOAA

Beluga Whales in Chukchi Sea, Alaska. Photo credit Laura Morse, NOAA


Because nothing says “Happy Holidays” like preventing dolphins from living in the ocean

Atlanta, Atlanta, Atlanta.  And now Atlanta Now, a  local advertisement for tourism and spending money in any number of ways in Atlanta, jumps on the captivity-is-cool at the Georgia Aquarium bandwagon.  In their latest issue, they remind us that we can spend money encouraging captivity for dolphins.  Because more and more captivity is what the ticket price purchases when one visits an aquarium that wants to import 18 beluga whales hunted and caught in the seas around Russia for a life of photo ops with Santa and friends.

A photo op for Santa and the Georgia Aquarium; a life of captivity for the dolphins. Atlanta Now! Magazine

A photo op for Santa and the Georgia Aquarium; a life of captivity for the dolphins. Photo by Atlanta Now Magazine

Maybe the Santa doesn’t translate to your holiday tradition.  So much the better for you, or at least the 11 dolphins held captive at the Georgia Aquarium.  But regardless of your tradition and whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day (yay), Ashura, the Winter Solstice or another event – you might yet be attracted by the man in the red suit to think that he was involved with something that was friendly toward the dolphin shown in the photograph.

Let me just say, no, he is not.  Scuba Santa is participating in an enormous marketing ploy to convince you that captivity is a-okay for dolphins, when, in fact, it is not. As the Humane Society of the United States and the World Society for the Protection of Animals and the marine biologists who have nothing to gain by keeping them in captivity have demonstrated, dolphins and other marine mammals are not suited for a life in captivity.  Why?

  • Marine mammals often breed unsuccessfully in captivity.  Shaka, a wild-caught dolphin held at the Georgia Aquarium, has apparently given birth four times.  Two of her babies died shortly after birth.
  • Marine mammals do not live as long in captivity.
  • Marine mammals survive and thrive by using sound to see their family, to find their prey, to locate other objects, including tools and toys that they select.  Imagine how confusing a concrete sound-bouncing chamber must be to a creature who uses sound to live.
  • Marine mammals are wide-ranging creatures, swimming up to somewhere around 100 miles per day and hundreds of feet deep.  How can a 25 or worse 12-foot-deep concrete tank provide a “life” that a dolphin needs to be a dolphin?  You’re right; it can’t.

What is a more appropriate holiday tradition?  How about actually learning about dolphins and whales and how they arrive and fare in captivity by sharing the following books and films – especially if you have a budding young marine biologist living under your roof:

The Georgia Aquarium as the world’s largest aquarium, may feel that there is no better way to say, “Happy Holidays!” than a visit to a facility that keeps dolphins and whales out of their native oceans.  But you won’t agree, once you know.  In fact, I’m betting that there are lots of you who, knowing more about the plight of dolphins and whales in captivity, would never again frequent an aquarium who held these regal beings in captivity and away from a life to which they have a full and vested right, by being alive.

Share life and freedom this Holiday season.  Happy Holidays to you and to all of life.

Comment period closes, public opinion period opens with a full-court “press”

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.

Beluga whales in the ocean in their natural family group

Beluga whales in the ocean in their natural family group

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.”

Beluga whales in the wild

Beluga whales in the wild live in family groups, matrilines, that will be disrupted by the import. We just don’t know how much and no “tank” research can tell us that.

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

We were convinced that 80s hair was attractive

If they convinced you that 80s hair was cool, do you doubt they can convince you that keeping dolphins and whales in aquariums has value?

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

  1. that whales jump up and go back down;
  2. that whales are playful, social and fascinating to watch;
  3. that the point is to have a “favorite” in the aquarium;
  4. 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);
  5. 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.);
  6. 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.

Georgia Aquarium Beluga whales in the wild

The Public Opinion Period is wide open.  Write letters to your local newspapers world over, and let them know that you do not support the Georgia Aquarium’s import proposal and that it should never be acceptable for us to remove whales from their home to live in a concrete tank.