A recent legal victory marked big win for wild Belugas, as a U.S. District Court judge ruled to uphold NOAA’s earlier decision to deny the Georgia Aquarium’s request to import 18 Beluga whales. Under 1972’s Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is currently illegal to import any wild caught marine mammals into the U.S. However, the Georgia Aquarium had hoped to bypass this law, saying that they needed the animals for research. Their further plans included “loaning” several of the animas to Shedd’s Aquarium in Chicago and SeaWorld Aquariums.

Increasing research has shown that captivity has detrimental effects on all wild animals, but particularly to intelligent marine mammals like dolphins, belugas and killer whales. Captive animals have been observed showing visible signs of distress and behaviors such as fighting, attacking humans and even suicide attempts.  In fact, the Georgia Aquarium itself has a noted problem with the calves born in their tanks suffering early deaths.

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The more we learn about these intelligent, complex animals, the more it is clear that they do not belong in tiny tanks. Mark Palmer, associate director of Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project, said to The Orlando Sentinel in an email, “Beluga whales do not belong in captivity, they die an early death and are not suited for small tanks.”

The wild Belugas, who were caught off the coast of Russia back in 2006, are currently being held in Russia’s Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station, where they will remain under scientific observation, for now. But hopefully, this ruling will serve as a deterrent for anyone else planning to get rich by capturing wild marine mammals.

As Mark Palmer told the Orlando Sentinel, “We are pleased the court agreed with the original decision by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service that allowing imports would violate the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, subjecting wild belugas in Russia to depletion from the captivity trade, encouraging further captures, and violating the MMPA’s ban on captures and imports of baby belugas still dependent on their mothers. Beluga whales belong in the wild.”

We hope that this is the first of many positive steps to come in the fight to end cruel marine captivity.

Image source: Pelican/Flickr