Georgia Aquarium and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marines Fishing Service, also known as NOAA Fisheries battled in court on Friday over the fate of 18 beluga whales captured in Russia. The aquarium is in a legal face-off over the agency’s refusal to grant permission rights over the marine mammal protection.
On June 2012, Georgia Aquarium applied for permission rights from NOAA for importing beluga whales, but were denied. The aquarium then sued the government in September 2013 for denying the right to import the whales captured by Russian scientists in 2006 off the coast of northern Russia. The whales are in the care of Russian scientists at Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station in Russia.
The aquarium lawyers stressed that marine biologists will study the whales, and their public display would promote conservation efforts and education a the US district court in Atlanta. The lawyer for the aquarium accused NOAA Fisheries for “cooking the books” while the government lawyer said he was trying to confuse the court. US District Judge Amy Totemberg was confused and troubled by the lack of data on beluga population.
According to the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, capture and importation of marine mammals or their products are not allowed, but it can be imported if it meets certain conditions. Scott Higley, a spokesperson for Georgia Aquarium said that the decision will be based on what is best for the collective beluga population in accredited facilities in North America. The aquarium added that it needed new whaled to diversify the gene population for the beluga population in the US which stands at 29.
The whales are planned to be placed at the Georgia Aquarium, and others will be lent to aquariums in Chicago, Connecticut, and Sea World facilities in Florida, Texas and California. If they are denied permission, the whales would stay in Russia. The final court decision is expected to come after several months.