New Proposal Seeks to Outlaw Beluga Whale Imports to U.S.

First Posted: Apr 06, 2016 01:49 PM EDT

Beluga whale imports from the Sea of Okhotsk into the United States for public display purposes maybe illegal soon. The implementation will then take off once the the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposal is approved. 

Beluga whale import from Russian waters may be outlawed by the NOAA announced on Tuesday, April 5. The NOAA Fisheries proposed that the US use the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to declare beluga whales living in the Sea of Okhotsk in Eastern Russia as below optimum sustainable population or "depleted." The proposal will undergo a 60-day public comment period. After approval, it will be the first time that the U.S. will have used the MMPA to designate a marine mammal living in foreign waters as depleted.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Earth Island Institute, and Cetacean Society International have been pushing NOAA to declare belugas as depleted since 2014. Along with the Animal Welfare Institute, they submitted an appeal in response to the attempts of Georgia Aquarium to import 18 belugas from the Sea of Okhotsk in 2012. Import permits for the aquarium were denied in September 2015, TakePart reported.

Spokesman Martin Gray said, "We remain interested in the species, and will continue to work with Belugas bred in human care."

"Georgia Aquarium will no longer take wild caught mammals except in the case of rescued animals which are placed with us by government agencies after they are deemed unsuitable for release," she added.

Beluga whales continue to be captured in large numbers. In 2013 alone, 260 whales were captured under the approval of the Russian government. Eighteen of which were used for research purposes and 245 were delivered to aquariums and marine parks, where belugas have a higher infant death rate than belugas in the wild, CTV News reported.

Russia has been consistently importing beluga whales for public display around the globe since 1992. According to a group called the Animal Welfare Institute, the population of beluga in the area is now below 60 percent of its historic size. 

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