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.
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.
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.