WSB Channel 2's Report on Wild Caught Belugas

Please check out WSB Channel 2's report on the Georgia Aquarium's attempt to import 18 Wild Caught Belugas.

Please make your comments after watching the video below.


Wild Caught Beluga Roundup

On July 1, the Georgia Aquarium announced that it, along with other undisclosed marine parks and aquariums, is seeking to import into the United States 18 wild-caught beluga whales from the Okhotsk Sea in Russia, thereby increasing the U.S. captive beluga whale population by more than 50%. The Georgia Aquarium has been engaged in a multi-year Russian study, into which it has infused at least $2 million dollars, which sought to answer the question: how many beluga whales can be taken from their social group structure in the wild, without unsustainably disrupting those population groups.

Beluga whales in Russian Pens photo from No Whales in Captivity

The obvious question is, what is the justification for the Georgia Aquarium's importing whales hunted and taken from the ocean, when the capture, an unmistakably violent process, necessarily disrupts the social groups of these animals. Further, as demonstrated by past capturing events, these captures are highly stressful to the animals, so stressful, in fact, that it is statistically certain that at least some whales will be harmed, even mortally, during the capture.

The Georgia Aquarium's statement, including video, provides a three-fold rationale for why it is necessary to remove these animals from the wild and their own social groups. The Aquarium's rationale is:

  • The beluga whale is a threatened species, and undergoing additional threats from global warming, resource extraction (oil drilling) and other threats, and learning about them in captivity is essential to saving them in the wild.
  • Maintaining a sustainable captive beluga whale population is essential to the survival of the beluga whale population everywhere.
  • It is acceptable to take up to 29 beluga whales without negatively impacting the wild population group.

If these are their reasons to support the departure from a long-term practice in the United States of not importing wild-caught cetaceans, then this project should fail of its own accord. The internal inconsistency among the three reasons is clear: one cannot claim that a species is threatened and must be saved by efforts to capture them, on the one hand, while at the same time claiming that there is an sustainable number of individuals to remove from the wild population.

Beyond the illogic, however, it is not accurate to suggest, as does Mr. William Hurley, Chief Zoological Officer of the Georgia Aquarium, that the entire beluga whale population is threatened. It is not.

Beluga whale in natural habitat, photo by John Ford

Additionally, Dr. Naomi Rose, Senior Scientist at Humane Society International, notes that the kind of threats discussed by the Georgia Aquarium do not lend themselves to studies on captive animals. "Climate change involves small, gradual changes in temperature, which, in turn, may have impacts, over time, on prey species and, therefore, on the range of animals. It is difficult to conceive the framework of a study on captive animals that would reveal information about these kinds of impacts."

More likely, however, the real reason is that the Aquarium industry does not, as Mr. Hurley reveals in the video, want the captive beluga whale population to become "extinct." I would call "extinction of captive population" one of the more curious inventions of the captivity industry.

What you can do: If you oppose this illogical departure from the practice of not importing wild-caught belugas into the U.S., there are various actions that you can take to stop it. First, contact the Georgia Aquarium directly to voice your opposition to this effort:

Meghann Gibbons, Director, Public Relations

Georgia Aquarium

225 Baker Street NW

Atlanta, GA 30313

(404) 581-4109


Cyber Whale Warrior has begun a Facebook event, where folks commit to send postcards to the Georgia Aquarium. Join people from around the world in letting the Georgia Aquarium know that the public is not pleased with this dramatic departure, and that we will not abide cetaceans being pulled out of their free lives in the ocean for a life in their, or some other aquarium's concrete tank.

Second, there is a petition circulating which oppose this importation and will be presented to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Georgia Aquarium, and the American Association of Marine Parks and Aquariums. Please sign.

Third, and most importantly, is the act of commenting on the Federal Register notice when the proposed import permit is published in the Federal Register. At the appropriate time (come back here for additional information as it becomes available on when the notice of the draft permit application is published), please take the time to provide a comment on why the import permit should not be granted. An introduction to this process is available in a piece written by Candace Calloway Whiting.

And lastly, for those social media types, utilize all these tools to spread the message via Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other "circle" you are in to pronounce that beluga whales should not be captured in the wild to satisfy the captivity industry.

Death at SeaWorld Panel Discussion:

Death at SeaWorld Panel Discussion
Live Streamed Event was on September 17th, 2012
in Atlanta, Georgia (Emory University)

The Panel Discussion included:
--David Kirby -- Author of "Death at SeaWorld", Award-winning journalist
--Naomi A. Rose, PhD -- Senior Scientist, Humane Society International
--Lori Marino, PhD -- Senior Lecturer, The Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts, Emory University and the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy.

Death at SeaWorld, by award-winning journalist and author, David Kirby, discussed not only the issues surrounding cetacean captivity, such as the feasibility of keeping large marine mammals like Orcas in a manner that protects the safety of the human trainers as well as the Orcas and whether Cetacean captivity is supportable from an ethical perspective.

The panel discussion, including Author David Kirby, Dr. Lori Marino and Dr. Naomi Rose, also sheds light on Marino's ground-breaking research on mirror-recognition in dolphins, that is, the demonstration that dolphins, like humans, are self-aware, what this means for dolphin and whale captivity, and how this impacted her decision to cease studying dolphins in captivity. Dr. Rose provides her perspective as a marine biologist who has, since she was a graduate student, studied orcas in the wild.

Questions from online viewers of September 17 live stream “Death at SeaWorld” event

Questions from online viewers of September 17 live stream “Death at SeaWorld” event
Naomi Rose and Lori Marino
1. What is the time frame after the public comment period is over before the transport will occur? Ideally, there will be no permit issued and no transport. However, if it is issued and if the Georgia Aquarium chooses to use it, despite the public outcry, then the odds are it will be issued sometime near the end of the year or early next year and the transport will occur very soon after that (possibly within days after the permit is granted). Statutorily the federal agency must make a decision by November 12, but they are highly likely to miss that deadline (given the volume of public comment they will need to address) and it is unlikely that the Georgia Aquarium will go to court to force the issue (it would simply add to the bad PR they are already dealing with). That’s the best we can do in terms of guestimating this. 2. Has anyone ever been killed by an orca in the wild?
No. At no time in history (and this is going back to the Ancient World, when orcas were first identified by the Greeks) has a wild orca ever been recorded as killing a person. In some cultures they were known as ferocious killers and people were afraid of them as potential killers of people, but such a killing apparently was never recorded by any of these cultures. People have been targeted by hunting orcas (but the orcas broke off the attack when they realized the people were not seals or other natural prey) and a couple of people have actually been injured, including one surfer who required stitches. But again, the animals broke off the attacks when they realized the people were not prey. However, in only 47 years of keeping these animals in captivity, dozens of people have received serious injuries and four people have been killed. And Tilikum is not the only killer – he was joined by two female whales when he killed his first victim, Keltie Byrne, and the third victim, Alexis Martinez, was killed by Keto, a young male who is not related to Tilikum.
3. What is happening with Morgan?
For those reading this who do not know, Morgan is a young female orca who was found as a two or three year old calf, emaciated and alone, in the Wadden Sea (in Dutch waters) a couple of years ago. She was rehabilitated at Harderwijk Aquarium in the Netherlands and then, despite an excellent release proposal and a court action to secure her release, sent to Loro Parque in Tenerife, Canary Islands. The court case is not yet resolved, however, and a new hearing is set for November 2. It is entirely possible that the court will order Morgan returned to the Netherlands and placed in a release program. She has many dedicated advocates and a strong team willing to work on her release program, so we will have to be patient and see how things work out.
She is currently being held with six other captive-born orcas (four from SeaWorld and two born at Loro Parque), where reports are that she is being severely harassed (she is apparently subordinate). She is covered in new scars from deep rakes she has received from the other whales. The entire situation is untenable, for her and frankly for the other whales, who are all behaviorally abnormal. Keto killed a Loro Parque trainer, Alexis Martinez, in late 2009, Tekoa (a younger male) seriously injured a Loro Parque trainer (Claudia Vollhardt) in 2007, Kohana has borne and rejected two calves in two years (she just turned 10 years of age), and Skyla (the younger female) is very aggressive. The two calves, Adán and Victoria, are being hand-raised and will be almost certainly behaviorally abnormal themselves.
4. SeaWorld San Diego has a TV show called Sea Rescue – are you aware of it?
Yes, we are aware of it, but we aren’t following its development in any way.
5. Besides protests, how can we help?
You can tell your friends and family your views, urge them to buy “Death at SeaWorld” and read it, encourage them not to attend theme parks where these animals are exploited, and write to these facilities politely urging them to phase out the orca exhibits. You can write letters to the editor of your local paper or post to blogs when this issue is in the news cycle. And most importantly, you can live an exemplary life – Naomi suggests you recycle, conserve energy, eat lower on the food chain, don’t waste water, and so on – to ensure sufficient undegraded marine habitat remains for these animals to live in in the future!
6. What about the bill of cetacean rights?
The Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Dolphins and Whales is a call to have the basic rights of dolphins and whales recognized. It was created by a group of scientists, philosophers and cetacean advocates during a meeting in Helsinki, Finland in 2010. You can read and sign the Declaration and get more information about the Helsinki group here: Currently, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society is managing the Declaration ( and developing ways to use it as a device to create international policy that will recognize the basic right of cetaceans. The Declaration is not a legal document; rather, it is a cohesive and informed statement of objectives for cetaceans as we move into the future. Please feel free to distribute the URL and, of course, encourage everyone to sign the Declaration. The more signatures it has the more powerful a tool it becomes.
7. What are the possibilities for rehabilitation and release for the orcas currently in captivity?
This is a case-by-case issue. You have to think of these animals as individuals with personalities (as that is exactly what they are) – some are bold and confident, some are timid, some are whip-smart, some are a tad slower. Some are never going to want to break the bonds with the only social partners they have ever known, some will not hesitate to say “So long and thanks for all the fish” and head right out the gate. Each animal must be evaluated individually. Captive-born animals are highly unlikely to ever be fully independent in the wild, as orcas are taught most of their survival skills, just as we are – having never been taught how to be competent, independent, wild whales as youngsters, they aren’t likely to learn as adults. But their lives can be made better – ALL currently captive orcas can be retired to sea pens, given far more room in a natural setting to live, held only with compatible “friends,” not made to perform, and so on. Some currently captive orcas may be able to be go on “open ocean walks” with their caretakers, and some of those originally wild-caught may even readapt to a fully independent life in the wild. We cannot even say for certain that all captive-born whales can never be released – we simply don’t know for sure what they will do, given the opportunity to make a choice. If they do choose to go free, we should be there as a safety net to assist if they need help for some time afterward. This may sound complicated and expensive, but frankly it’s complicated and expensive to keep orcas in concrete tanks too. There is no good excuse for NOT trying this and every reason in the world TO try it.
8. Do you know of a whale who has had a dorsal fin amputated?
It’s not clear if this question is asking about a whale the questioner has heard about and wants confirmed, or if this is simply a general query as to whether this sort of thing has ever happened. Regardless, we have never heard of a dorsal fin amputation with a captive animal– or with a stranded animal, for that matter. However, some cetaceans in the wild have had their fins unintentionally amputated by fishing line over time – the line slowly worked its way through the dorsal fin after becoming wrapped around it and eventually the fin became necrotic and fell off (in these cases, the animals have survived and are seen in the wild with these deformities). A young dolphin had her tail flukes amputated in a veterinary procedure after they were mangled in a fish trap (this was Winter, the dolphin featured in “A Dolphin’s Tale”) – she is now in captivity and has a prosthetic tail (which she does not always wear, as it damages her skin), but we’ve not heard of a similar amputation for a dorsal fin.
9. How bad is the Aquarium of the Pacific?
We don’t know much about this facility. It has some marine mammals, but no cetaceans. Naomi has heard both good and bad things about it – just from looking at their website, it seems like a fairly standard facility.
10. What do people think of aquariums that hold sea turtles, sharks, manatees, and sea lions?
If you go to the Humane Society of the United States website ( and input “Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity” in the search engine, you will find The HSUS white paper on this issue. As you can see, the title is the case against marine mammals in captivity, not just cetaceans. We believe that all marine mammals are not best served by being in captivity, as their unique aquatic needs are difficult to impossible to meet in a zoological setting. However, some do better than others. In fact, manatees can do well in a well-designed exhibit, as they are herbivores, slow-moving, and prefer coastal, relatively shallow-water habitat. Nevertheless, if the ethical goal is to confine only wildlife that adapts well to captivity and not only survives but thrives and behaves naturally in zoos, then marine mammals are a poor choice.
Sea turtles are not likely to do well either, as they are open-water, pelagic creatures except when they come ashore to lay their eggs. They make wide-ranging migrations and this is obviously not a possibility in captivity. We do not think their needs are best-served in captivity. Naomi notes that sharks, on the other hand, if they are smaller species, provided with large multi-story tanks with natural vegetation (e.g., kelp) and substrate (e.g., sand), and well-fed, can function relatively well in captivity. Larger species, such as great whites and whale and basking sharks, are entirely unsuited for confinement, simply due to their size.
11. How do we get this into the school system?
One of the most important goals in animal advocacy is public education and one of the most critical domains for that is in the school system. Right now most elementary school instructors, if they do discuss marine mammals, often inadvertently send the wrong message to children. School trips to marine parks like SeaWorld, use of children’s books that do not reveal both sides of the captivity issue (and often promote captivity), and getting most of the information on marine mammals from places like SeaWorld – all of this contributes to lack of the right kind of education on marine mammals for students.
So the remedy for this is to make a concerted effort to present educational materials to students about the natural lives of dolphins and whales – not their lives in captivity playing with hoops and balls. These materials can come from reputable advocacy organizations like The Humane Society of the United States or the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and also from interviewing marine mammal scientists. Also, there should obviously not be any class trips to zoos or marine parks. Finally, books on the ethics of captivity and the rights of dolphins and whales (and other animals) should be part of the curriculum and discussed in class. This general advice follows from first grade all the way through to graduate school. The important point is to make discussions about our relationship with the other animals part of mainstream education.
12. Is Lolita’s tank size being addressed?
The situation with Lolita, the solitary orca held at Miami Seaquarium, is an on-going dilemma for the animal protection community. Her tank is clearly inadequate for her, and it is technically in violation of the Animal Welfare Act size standards for cetaceans. However, for inexplicable reasons, the agency in charge of enforcing the AWA standards – the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) – has offered varying explanations for why it has failed to address this situation and continues to insist (irrationally, really) that somehow Lolita’s tank is NOT in violation of the size standards.
Several lawyers have reviewed Lolita’s situation and have concluded that it would be difficult to impossible to get standing – the right to address the issue in court – in a case brought under the AWA. Basically under the AWA, concerned citizens or interest groups cannot sue on behalf of an animal – they must show that their own interests are being directly harmed and that’s not easy to do in these situations. So time and again, lawyers who wanted to help have concluded that the case would never make it past the standing review. Recently PETA filed a lawsuit on behalf of Lolita under the Endangered Species Act (which has a citizen suit provision, which means that standing is not a problem for people suing on behalf of animals), arguing she should have been covered by the 2006 endangered listing of her population, the Southern Resident Community. This case has not yet been resolved. If it succeeds in court, then Lolita would have to be moved from the Seaquarium, as her situation would constitute an illegal “take.”
Meanwhile, other activists continue to work on APHIS, in an effort to get the agency to cogently and consistently explain its reasons for failing to cite the Seaquarium for Lolita’s inadequate tank size.

DVD Release in the United States December 4th, 2012.

They will have the PAL format for other countries too
They have upcoming big-screen showings in several countries: Australia, Indonesia to England and the United States.

The Whale movie is a True Story of a young Orca killer whale nicknamed Luna. Luna lost contact with his family turning up in a narrow stretch of sea called Nootka sound. This movie tells the riveting story of Luna.



Cove Blue for Jiyu

Cove Blue for Jiyu
In the end, it's about respect