Tag Archives: NOAA

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.

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


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.



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.

Has someone, uh, crossed the line at NOAA-NMFS-2012-0158?

Litigation support firms often hire temporary workers to assist in various aspects of legal matters.  From lawyers and paralegals to copiers and data entry operators to file managers and box movers (litigation can create a lot of documents, kind of like the number of comments on the Federal Register notice), these firms are hired by law firms to do some of the big volume work involved in litigation.  The litigation support firms are, in turn, hired by law firms, who are hired by others.

Aquariums and marine parks, too, hire lots of kinds of workers.  As we learned, during this year’s hearing concerning the Occupational Health and Safety Administration action against SeaWorld (which SeaWorld LOST), many of their workers have no special degrees that uniquely qualify them for work with marine mammals.  No, the trainers, by and large, are not marine biologists, as most elementary, junior high and high school aquarium attendees think, when they say, “I wanna be a trainer!”

Two hours before the hearing regarding the Georgia Aquarium beluga import permit

Are these “interested parties” in the sense of regulations developed for access to public hearings?

So perhaps it should come as no surprise, when the aquarium/marine park industry “marries up” with the legal, including litigation support, industry, that there might result an assortment of individuals involved who have not only no special qualifications (many of us have no more than a dogged commitment to learn from the actual experts, like Dr. Naomi Rose and Dr. Lori Marino the facts surrounding how marine mammals fair in captivity) for their involvement, they also have no awareness of the issues involved that would merit their description as “interested parties.”

Elizabeth Batt’s October 13, 2012, expose of the presence of unknown individuals standing in line really said it all, and described the marine mammal advocate community present that day.  Ric O’Barry was the first to inform us that those standing in line were not there on their own behalf, but seemed to be there as place-holders for the aquarium industry.  When approached to find out which organization they represented (I could not believe that was Mr. O’Barry said was true.  After all, that would be highly irregular if not more if they were paid to displace the positions of actual interested citizenry), I was informed by someone ostensibly acting in a role of “supervisor” that I could not speak to those in line.  That I could not ask them questions.

Well, of course, that is not true.  While it appears to have been true that they may have been under a restriction to answer, I was not restricted to ask.  This is, after all, America, which prides itself in not only protecting the right of free speech, it also provides a process whereby interested persons are provided an opportunity to have a meaningful role in the decisions of our government, just like the one before NOAA.  The Administrative Procedures Act and the regulations promulgated by NOAA are intended to provide the interested public with access to the process of permit review such as this one.  As stated by NOAA on the webpage devoted to this issue: “NOAA Fisheries will hold a public meeting to inform interested parties of the proposed import and solicit comments on the application and accompanying draft EA.”

It really does not take a rocket scientist to know that those standing in line were not “interested” in the subject matter of that public hearing, and the practice – whether common or not – of hiring individuals to potentially bar those “interested parties” from attending a public hearing?  Well, I’ll leave it at, I think it “crossed the line.”  Yea.  I said it.  Pa dum pump.

So who hired these people?

I’ve already phoned one marine park, whose answering machine offered their reservation line, in case I was calling to book a vacation to swim with a dolphin.  I’ll try back tomorrow.  And won’t be calling that reservation line.

Unlike the 70 or so people standing in line in front of me, I am interested in the outcome of this application.  And you should be, too.  Please submit your comment, on the NOAA website, in opposition to the Georgia Aquarium’s application to import 18 wild beluga whales from Russia.  As I’ve said before, make it the most commented-on Federal Register Notice ever.  And at over 5,000 comments, I think we might be there.

Keep them wild.  Keep them free.  Keep them out of the United States.

Beluga whales in the ocean

Beluga whales are not suited to captivity. They die prematurely in captivity. Simply looking at this picture, you will instinctively know why.

2006 report presages Georgia Aquarium effort to import wild-caught beluga whales

In gathering materials for the upcoming public comment period on the Georgia Aquarium’s application to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales into the United States, I have been trying to decide how to best catalogue and file the articles, blogs, and reports.

Well, I don’t have any words of wisdom there.

Adult and baby beluga whale

Adult and baby beluga whale, photo from The Telegraph

BUT.  I think the easiest thing is for me is to post the “chercest” bits here.  With or without commentary.

A short excerpt from a 2006 report by William Rossiter presaged the current effort by the Georgia Aquarium to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales into the United States:

The bad news is that NMFS wants to ignore that Gasper and Nico had been captured in Russia. Their shadowed past includes the brutal, inhumane but officially permitted Russian beluga capture operations that should have made their import to the US illegal under animal welfare laws. However, their import was proposed and promoted for humane reasons only, a one-time “rescue” necessary for their survival from a truly horrible situation. But when the time came NMFS issued an import permit and supporting documents minimizing humane concerns. The permit may have been intended instead to facilitate future imports of Russian-caught belugas or their progeny. An open door for Russian beluga imports would persuade the Russians to make more brutal captures, making NMFS complicit in future deaths and suffering. NMFS chose to ignore video and other evidence of the incredibly brutal Russian capture operation, insisting that specific evidence had to be submitted for each beluga up for an import permit. NMFS knows that evidence about any captures is hard to get, and much import data is incomplete.

So much for “rescuing” Gasper, captured in Russia, 1997, died January 2, 2007; and Nico, captured in Russia, 1997(?), died October 31, 2009.  Thanks to Ceta-base for maintaining the Beluga whale database.

Read Beluga Misadventures, by William Rossiter, published in Cetacean Society International, Whales Alive!, Vol. XV, No. 4, October 2006, and get geared up for the first

Urgent Call to Action

to show support for wild, free beluga whales, to be held on Saturday, July 21, from noon to 3 p.m. at the main entrance of the Georgia Aquarium.  Tell the event hosts that you will be coming.