Tag Archives: whale

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

A limerick for Captain Paul’s return

Captain Paul Watson and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., flanked by supporters and members of the Sea SHepherd Conservation Society

Captain Paul Watson and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., flanked by supporters and members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on his return to the United States. Photo by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

On this fine and auspicious day when Captain Paul Watson has been welcomed back to the United States, there will no doubt be many celebrations and writings in his honor.  To that grand homecoming, I humbly offer the following form of tribute, which is one of my favorites, the limerick.

The World has a Captain named Paul

Who’s in it for the long haul.

He squashed the Red Notice,

And with Bob and the SCOTUS

Will end whaling once and for all.

Welcome home, Captain.

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.

 

 

1,000,000 hours at the Georgia Aquarium: a whole lot of misleadin’ goin’ on

The Georgia Aquarium writes a new blog post (posted on its Facebook page) celebrating 1,000,000 volunteer/hours clocked at the aquarium.  That is a whole lot of time to tell its story about dolphins and whales in captivity.  So, just to inject some accurate information into the dialogue about whales and dolphins in captivity – perhaps especially for the volunteers trained by the Georgia Aquarium – I suggest that you start with award-winning journalist David Kirby’s piece, published on November 1, 2012, 7 Reasons Killer Whales Should Never Be Held in Captivity.  Before you read that, you should know that orcas are dolphins.  Maybe the Georgia Aquarium told you that.  Maybe it didn’t.

And just because I can’t share without adding a few words of my own, having been a volunteer at the Georgia Aquarium on its opening day, and on a regular schedule for over a year, that is, until the whales and whale sharks began dying, here are a few contrasts between what the aquariums say and, uh, the truth about marine mammals in captivity.

For instance, you might hear the volunteers say stuff like

  • Dolphins and whales live as long in captivity as the wild.
    NOT TRUE.

    No less than four studies demonstrate that bottlenose dolphins live a significantly shorter time in captivity, even excluding infant mortality.
  • Dolphins are not taught to do “tricks” for the aquarium shows. Those are “natural behaviors.”
    NOT TRUE.
    In the wild, dolphins do not tail walk, jump through hoops, or act like rodeo broncos (that’s another vile and cruel “sport”).  A trick is a trick is a trick.  Why does the aquarium industry feel the need to play this word game?  Because they KNOW that YOU know that keeping them in captivity for tricks is unacceptable.
Dolphin trick by Tambako the Jaguar

Why does the aquarium industry feel the need to change the word “trick” to “behavior”? Because they KNOW that YOU know that keeping them in captivity for tricks is unacceptable. Photo Credit: Tambako the Jaguar

  • Dolphins and whales thrive in captivity. 
    NOT TRUE.

    Whales and dolphins in captivity are fed pharmaceutical and drugs on a regular and consistent basis in order to offset the ravages that captivity would wreak without them.  In the wild, dolphins thrive without resort to anything but their “loose and wild” life.  (Reference to whale enemy, Congressman Young (R, WA)).
  • Dolphins and whales in captivity are not releasable. 
    NOT TRUE.

    Perhaps there are some that will never be able to released, but until we try, there is no basis for that blanket statement.
  • The dolphins and whales were rescued. 
    NOT TRUE. 

    At the Georgia Aquarium, Shaka was wild-caught in 1988 and is now approximately 28 years old, having spent only about 2 years knowing what life was supposed to be like for her.  The other ten dolphins in the Georgia Aquarium’s dolphin extravaganza were bred for the show, born in  captivity, and if aquariums have their way, will never know the taste of freedom.

So, while the Georgia Aquarium celebrates 1,000,000 volunteer/hours, I can only picture the millions of people that received its carefully-scripted story about dolphins and whales.  That’s a whole lot of misleadin’ goin’ on.  And wish I could reach out to each one of them to correct the record.

Please join us as we undertake this effort to tell the truth about captivity.  Read  David Kirby’s wonderful book, Death at SeaWorld.  Watch the livestream event of the September 17, 2102, panel discussion among Mr. Kirby, Dr. Naomi Rose and Dr. Lori Marino filmed by Free the Atlanta 11.  Read Ric O’Barry’s recently re-released Behind the Dolphin Smile.

Become informed and begin adding your voice in providing accurate information to offset the inaccuracies about whales and dolphins in captivity.  Tell your friends why they should NEVER go to a dolphin show or an aquarium that houses marine mammals.

Dolphins loose and wild, as they should be not held in the Georgia Aquarium

Dolphins, loose and wild, as they should be.

Taiji dolphin hunters reach new low – as they “have enough” pilot whales

Yesterday, the Taiji “fishermen” decided that they didn’t want to kill most of the 100-120 pilot whales they had trapped two days before, after having driven it via a cacophony of frightening noise and forced it to swim for untold distances into a death cove.

Pilot whales huddle as Taiji hunters select whales for slaughter

Pilot whales huddle as Taiji hunters select whales for slaughter. Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conversation Society

For two days the pod saw its family members selectively ripped from among them.  For two days, the whales huddled, not knowing who would be next for the slaughter.  For two days, they swam in the stench of their family’s death.  A baby whale became trapped in the fishing nets, as its mother stayed close by,

Baby pilot whale trapped in fishing net Taiji, Japan

Baby pilot whale trapped in fishing net Taiji, Japan, as mother spy-hops nearby, helpless to intervene. Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

repeatedly “spy-hopping”, helpless to do anything but stay as close as she could, while her baby drowned.

So there was something especially callous yesterday, as the “fishermen” decided that they would release the lion-share of the pod that they had driven by fear into that dead-end of life as the whales had known it.  If there were remorse on the part of the “fishermen”, if this signaled an end to the drive hunts, that would be another matter.  But all this signaled was that the “fishermen” had gotten enough use from this traumatized group of victims.  Much as rapists who have “had enough” and let their victims go, the “fishermen” decided that they had had enough use of the ones whom they had not killed but who had been forced to watch the murder of their family.

They decided to release those “survivors”.

Pilots whales terrified and traumatized are further traumatized during their release by Taiji hunters

Pilots whales terrified and traumatized are further traumatized during their release by Taiji “fishermen”. Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The scene that unfolded yesterday as the “fishermen” conducted a “release” that was probably more brutal than the capture showed these men running into the whales, roping them, using the same cacophony of terror to drive them back out to sea – because the traumatized whales were too tired, confused, and frightened to know which direction to swim.  The scene that all witnessed should raise an international outcry.  The livestreaming video, narrated by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardian, Melissa Sehgal, is not a graphic one due to scale.  There is little visual clue, but Ms. Sehgal’s narrated film, now archived, described a day that few who watched will ever forget.

Taiji fishermen lasso a pilot whale to drag it

Taiji fishermen lasso a pilot whale to drag it to “freedom”. Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

This is a new low by the fishermen.  Whether the trauma survivors will beach themselves, having been through an ordeal that few in this life have, we may never learn.

But I trust that you will find a new voice to match this new low, and that you will use it to secure a ban on this dysfunction of our society that allows and even supports the torment, trauma and death of creatures, a torment that the survivors carry with them.  Say that you, too, have had enough; you have had enough of the “fishermen’s” having enough.

Use your voice to stop this now.  Sign a petition to get media on the ground. Call the buyers of the mercury-tainted flesh and tell them that you know the history of the lives that they are now selling.  Stop this atrocity.  Now.

Gentle and timid pilot whales huddled as they await their fate in the Taiji Cove

Don’t turn away from these gentle and timid pilot whales, huddled as they await their fate and the blood of their family streams in from the Taiji Cove. Photo Credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

100-120 Pilot Whales Trapped in The Cove, Taiji, Japan

CALL TO ACTION!!

We have as little as seven hours to act to save 100-120 pilot whales and the people who will eat them.  Media coverage, reach out to Japanese embassies worldwide, something immediate is needed to stop this atrocity.

Fishermen's Union pilot whales 103012 Taiji Japan

,Dolphin hunters corral 100-120 pilot whales, whose fate will be decided in as little as seven hours. Photo Credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians

The Fishermen’s Union (FU) of Taiji, Japan, has once again herded a pod of 100-120 pilot whales into a “killing cove.”  As night passes in Taiji, the rest of the word could act to save them.  But will the world, or even the villagers of Taiji, ever know?  While most of the people of Japan are unaware of this slaughter, the mainstream media could act to save not only whales, but the people of Japan.

CNN reported a similar story in September, when the FU trapped 80-100 pilot whales, about half of whom were slaughtered and butchered and sold at market for human consumption, the rest of whom were released after multiple days of being held.  This media coverage may or may  not have impacted the decision to release half the pod.  But the media should be on the ground, reporting this, so that whales and people are spared.

The horror – and don’t be mistaken, this is a horror – impacts not only the pilot whales who will lose their lives.  The local citizens of Taiji, and those anywhere that the flesh of the slaughtered whales is shipped and consumed, will unwittingly be exposed to potentially toxic levels of mercury.

Pilot Whales 100-120 Taiji, Japan to be slaughter

These pilot whales, gentle and timid whales, may be slaughtered and see their families slaughtered as early as 3:30p.m. EDT US 12/30/12 or 4:30a.m., 10/31/12, Taiji, Japan. Photo Credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians

Pilot whale and dolphin meat has been demonstrated to have mercury above safe health-based levels, but most Japanese citizens who purchase this whale and dolphin meat are unaware of the dangers.  Mercury – in particular methylmercury, the form found in fish – is a neurotoxin with both immediate and chronic impacts.  Children exposed to methylmercury in the womb show impairments to cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills.  In previous outbreaks of mercury toxicity, some mothers with no symptoms of nervous system damage gave birth to infants with severe disabilities.

Please shine a light on this atrocity right now, before the slaughter begins in as early as seven hours.

CALL TO ACTION: SIGN PETITION AND SHARE WIDELY TO LET THE BBC AND THE JAPANESE EMBASSIES IN THE UK AND THE UNITED STATES KNOW THAT HOURS REMAIN TO SAVE THIS POD.

And as always, please check the Save Misty the Dolphin page on Facebook for the URGENT ACTION being taken.

 

STOP THE BELUGA IMPORT – a few observations

Here are a few observations about the Georgia Aquarium’s application to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia, and why we must stop this atrocity, which, if allowed, will involve having ripped these 18 whales from stable family and community groups, and then transporting them across thousands of miles, and enduring numerous transfers, repackagings, detentions, on their way to their “initial final” point of detention.  Whew.  I say, “initial final” because the aquarium industry also has a practice of “sharing” their whales, transporting from facility to facility and back again.

Beluga whale being transported in sling

Full force of the sling is exerted against the normally completely buoyant and buoyed beluga whale. Looks rather like a straitjacket, don’t you think? Photo from lifeforcefoundation.org

This entire process is difficult for humans to understand.  While you and I might like to go “calling” on friends and relatives, try doing it taken completely out of your element, tied up in nets and ropes and slings, hear the rattling of chains, the fastening of locks as you are restrained, where your normally-buoyed body weight is feeling all the force exerted by gravity in air, against a solid surface, and then put in a small box.

For you, just so you might be able to experience the beluga transport on your terms, we’d fill the box with water, leaving just enough room at the top to allow you to surface and breathe.  You may have to hold your breath, though, as the water and you are jostled along the way.  And remember, before you sign up for this duty, you will be in there for many hours, perhaps days, until you reach the next place.

But back to the import permit.  NOAA must deny the application of the Georgia Aquarium to import 19 wild-caught beluga whales, under permit application number NOAA-NMFS-2012-0158, for reasons including the following.

Departure from long-standing policy and practice:  The long-standing policy and practice of the U.S. aquarium industry and of the U.S. government must not be reversed without a clear demonstration by the Georgia Aquarium and a determination of NOAA that the permit would meet all the conditions of the special exception under 50 CFR Part 216.  In addition to having to meet the standard burden under the law for an import permit, any such departure would merit a clear explanation on the part of NOAA and the Georgia Aquarium what “new information,” exists that would support the reversal of the 20-year history, what information and conclusions during those 20 years supported the then-policy and practice, and why in 2012, after this history, it elected to reverse it, as well as how that reversal was more consistent with intent of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to protect marine mammals than the 20-plus year policy and practice.

A review of this long-standing policy and practice reveals that, with the exception of two beluga whales, who were rescued from unsuitable conditions in Mexico City, Mexico, where they were held by Grupo Empresarial Chapultepec, S.A., under Permit File No. 1078-1796, there has been no import permit granted since prior to 1993. The Georgia Aquarium itself considers that import of the two beluga whales Gasper and Nico was a “rescue”,[1] and thus distinguished from the current application.  NOAA, as well, has stated that it does not consider that the last-issued permit under File No. 1078-1796 was of the same nature as NOAA-NMFS-2012-0158:  “The last such permits were issued to the Shedd Aquarium. A total of eight Pacific white-sided dolphins were removed from the wild in California in 1988 and 1993 under a five-year permit. Belugas captured in Canada were imported for display in the U.S. under permit in 1992.”[2]

This long lapse of such import permit applications indicates that the U.S. aquarium industry itself has long-recognized that capturing marine mammals from the wild is an extraordinary measure that must not be utilized by aquariums in the ordinary course of aquarium operation, even though allowed under special exception.  The aquarium industry, in fact, makes frequent use of representations to its customers during the course of its shows and in its literature that its marine mammals have been captive-bred and were not, with exception, captured from the wild.

Taking is not humane.  NOAA must find, in making its decision, that the process of taking is “humane”.[3] Any instance of taking must pass that threshold or the permit application be denied. The decision of NOAA must demonstrate how NOAA  made its determination that the capture was, in fact, humane, as to the specific 18 beluga whales, and must include a reference to any records that were considered as documentation of humane capture and in making that determination.

Further, the regulations[4] promulgated by NOAA to implement the Marine Mammal Protection Act[5] specifically prohibit the importation of marine mammals “taken” in an “inhumane” manner.[6]  “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.[7]  “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.”[8] The corollary, that the detention must also be humane, no matter how long, must also be demonstrated.

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.

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 each instance of hunting, capturing, detention, transporting, detention, transporting, detention, transporting, and detention – that is, for each step of the process, including the detention as a result of the importation.  As is discussed in other parts of this comment, the transport process is anything but humane.  The paucity of information that has been provided regarding transportation, clearly indicates that it does not represent the “least possible degree of pain and suffering practicable to the animal involved.”  The transport alone, therefore, does not pass the regulatory threshold of “humaneness” as to any of the 18 beluga whales, and certainly not each of the 18 beluga whales.

In contrast, the information which exists indicates that, quite to the contrary, the taking involved in the hunting and capturing was not humane.  This film by the International Fund for Animal Welfare,[9] involving motor boats, using ropes to restrain the whales while they are in the water, threatening their ability to breathe, exposing them to undue stress that will compromise their welfare and even result in drowning incidents, shows anything but a humane operation.  Blood is seen in the water at one point in the film.  Pointed and sharp instruments are used to subdue or control the animals.  While this film does not involve the 18 animals subject to this permit, the burden is not on the public to show that a capture was inhumane.  Rather the burden is on the Georgia Aquarium to demonstrate and NOAA to determine, based upon the record presented by the Georgia Aquarium or other specific information collected with regard to the 18 animals, that each instance of taking as described above was humane for each of the 18 beluga whales.

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.  NOAA cannot ignore this factual record involving the applicant, the Georgia Aquarium.

Because the Georgia Aquarium has not made a demonstration of these steps for each of the 18 animals, the permit must be denied.  To the degree that there has been some additional information about one leg of this operation for any individual animal, this information may not be extrapolated to the other legs or instances of taking, nor can it be extrapolated to the other animals.

Beluga whales do not “do well” in captivity.

The application by the Georgia Aquarium claims that belugas live as long in captivity as in the wild and that high mortality of belugas in captivity “largely ceased by 1995.”  In contrast to this claim, two of nine captive belugas held there, according to NMFS records, died in captivity at the Georgia Aquarium in 2007.  One more died in 2009, and the young beluga calf born at the Georgia Aquarium on May 18, 2012, died only five days later.[10]

At the six aquariums which will be the holders of the 18 beluga whales if this permit is granted,  34 belugas that have died in captivity.  While one might imagine that the deaths occurred long ago, and that the aquarium industry was learning at least by from trial and error during its ownership of the beluga whales, that is not the case.  Twenty-seven have died since 1995.   Of 71 belugas that have been held by the six aquariums now asking for this import permit, 34 have died in captivity.  Yes, nearly half.  The 18 new belugas, if imported, will face a stressful, terrible life in captivity, and many of them will die prematurely.  How can taking an action that one can predict will result in a significant early mortality rate be considered, from any perspective, humane.

Belugas in the wild can live a maximum of 50-60 years, while in captivity, they rarely live beyond 30 and frequently do not pass 25 – the maximum age to date has been 45 years.[11] The Georgia Aquarium prepared a longevity analysis, which concluded that median and average life expectancies are “effectively identical” 49 in captivity and the wild (the value given for these parameters in either environment is roughly 20 years).  This is not borne out by the factual record, and raises the question of whether an institution that does not understand the mortality of beluga whales is able to ensure the “least possible degree of pain and suffering practicable to the animal involved,”[12] as is required during any instance of “detention” related to this import in order for it to be considered “humane”.

While marine mammals that are already held in aquarium facilities in the United States are beyond the scope of this import permit application, the evidentiary record of how beluga whales fare in captivity, and in particular, in U.S. institutions, must be considered by NOAA in its permit application evaluation.  As discussed elsewhere in this comment, NOAA must determine whether the import of these 18 beluga whales, and each instance of taking of each of these beluga whales, is humane.  These 18 whales were free and living in their native and natural communities until taken, and most were taken for the express purpose of import by the Georgia Aquarium.  The record of the Georgia Aquarium and the other aquarium facilities named in the Georgia Aquarium’s application, must, therefore, be taken into account, and the question answered whether detention in these facilities, as a component of the taking that originated in Russia, is, as demonstrated by a factual record, humane.

Note: There are other reasons related to conservation, education, and more discussion of these as I have referenced in earlier blog posts.  Please read, write, and submit your comment to NOAA by October 29, 2012.  STOP THE BELUGA IMPORT.

I’m still writing, just so you know.  But 6,319 comments have been logged.


[1] http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/qa-beluga-whale-death-addressed-by-aquarium-chief-/nQY3H/
[2]
 http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/sci_res_pdfs/georgiaaquarium_belugas_onepager.pdf
[3]
16 U.S.C. §1374(b)(2)(B)
[4]
50 CFR Part 216
[5]
16 US.C. Chapter 31
[6]
50 CFR §216.12
[7]
50 CFR §216.3
[8] 50 CFR §216.3
[9]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47YY6f8J__4
[10]
http://www.ceta-base.com/lugalogue/ddl/ddl_ga.html, including Marine Mammal Inventory Reports of various dates
[11]
Willis, K. 2012. Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) adult life expectancy: wild populations vs the population in human care. Attachment to Permit Application File No. 17324; U.S. Marine Mammal Inventory Report.
[12]
50 CFR §216.3

What the Georgia Aquarium doesn’t understand

I thought I might make a short list of the problems with the Georgia Aquarium’s application to import beluga whales from Russia; issues that might indicate topics on which the Georgia Aquarium isn’t exactly expert.

Education: As Dr. Lori Marino has written, the Georgia Aquarium does not understand that for education to be valid, it must be both accurate and objectively demonstrated to have educational impact.  As she explains, the Georgia Aquarium’s program does not meet either threshold.  In contrast to some of the testimony in D.C. last week, while a visit to the beluga tank may assist middle school teachers in holding their students’ attention and inspiring a better essay, the increased enthusiasm for a day trip does not outweigh the cost to the captive whale OR of the negative ethical lesson to which the student was just unwittingly exposed.  Apparently the Georgia Aquarium does not understand this.

Conservation: Dr. Naomi Rose, of Humane Society International, has pointed out that it is nearly impossible to conceive of any valid study on a captive beluga whale which might indicate how, for instance, climate change might impact the wild beluga population.  Yet the Georgia Aquarium seems to think it can, as did Debborah Colbert from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Chair of an International Marine Animal Trainers Association committee, who testified in favor of the permit last Friday.  The studies, in evaluating the impacts on the wild beluga whale population by such warming and changing environments would ask questions like:  Will the whales seek different prey? Move to a different basin? Spend more time in deep water? Less time? Reform into superpods? Break into smaller pod units? I think you can see that none of these questions can be answered in the concrete tank at the Georgia Aquarium.  But this, too, seems to escape their comprehension.

Life Expectancy: Whale and Dolphin Conservation and its campaigns manager, Courtney Vail, know that the life expectancy of the beluga whale in captivity and “‘on display’ will probably be a short one. Belugas in the wild can live up to 50 or 60 years. In captivity, they rarely live beyond 30 and frequently do not pass 25.”  Another fact of which the Georgia Aquarium seems to be unaware.  Or at least one would hope.

Transport/Noise: Bill Rossiter, of Cetacean Society International, has noted that the transport of the dolphins can present noise levels that are within the hearing range of the beluga far in excess of those safe for even humans.  For creatures who survive by using echolocation, sitting on a tarmac at these noise levels, as well as being transported for thousands of miles in aircraft that exceed acceptable noise levels for U.S. air space, is clearly something to which a beluga whale should not be exposed.  Yet another fact that the Georgia Aquarium appears to not know.

But this short list would not be complete without one last fact.  It appears that the Georgia Aquarium may also be, shall we say, geographically-challenged.  So maybe, just maybe, they don’t quite know where the 18 beluga whales are coming from, which might get them a pass on the transport issues.  The Georgia Aquarium, ever helpful as it cruises the individuals on Facebook, gave its recommendation to a query:

Georgia Aquarium doesn't know about beluga whale import either

This doesn’t really need a caption. Does it?

Maybe the Georgia Aquarium thinks they are “importing” the beluga whales from Russia, Ohio via Athens, Kentucky.  Hell, that makes as much sense as justifying ripping wild beluga whale communities apart and taking them out of the ocean to study – IN A CONCRETE TANK – the impacts of climate change.  Jus’ sayin’.

I hope that poor guy doesn’t listen to travel or route advice from the Georgia Aquarium.  I hope NOAA doesn’t either.   Tell NOAA that you oppose the beluga import.  The links above will give you all the understanding you need for your comment.  And some of the understanding the Georgia Aquarium needs to end this atrocity.

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.