On Monday, the Georgia Aquarium was barred from importing beluga whales by a federal judge.
In a legal case in which the Georgia Aquarium sued the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association in 2013, a ruling has been made on the matter. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg has ruled in favor of the NOAA, who would not grant permission to the aquarium to import 18 beluga whales from Russia.
As reported by ABC News, the Georgia Aquarium wanted 18 whales that were captured from the Sea of Okhotsk for research over the course of five years, 2006, 2012, and 2011. The whales are currently residing in the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station in Russia. Not all of the whales would have gone to the Georgia Aquarium, however. Some would have ended up in an aquarium in either Chicago or Connecticut and others would have gone to Florida, Texas, or California to live at the Sea World Parks.
The Georgia Aquarium argued that the animals were needed to increase the gene pool of beluga whales at the aquarium and also that the belugas were needed for research. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, two beluga calves were born in captivity at the Georgia Aquarium in the past few years but had unfortunately died. In order to grow their population of belugas in captivity, the aquarium applied for a permit from the NOAA to import the animals but were denied the permit by the government agency.
The agency denied the request submitted by the Georgia Aquarium because of the threat of negatively impacting a certain population of beluga whales. The NOAA said that the Georgia Aquarium could not prove that importing the whales would not badly impair the population of belugas in that area and that collecting belugas from that area would increase the likelihood of more whales from that particular stock to be collected in the future.
In addition to this, the agency also suspected that a portion of the beluga whales that were captured were too young for collection and were still nursing, which is a violation of the law.
In response to this, the Georgia Aquarium argued that extensive research of that particular stock of whales had been done, and the findings of the study indicated that the young whales in question had not been nursing and had already separated from their mothers at the time of their collection.
After being denied the permit, the Georgia Aquarium sued the NOAA on the basis that the agency's decision to deny the permit application was "arbitrary and capricious." The legal battle began in September of 2013.
The ruling made on Monday by the federal court upheld the government agency's decision to refuse the permit to the Georgia Aquarium. The ruling was 100 pages long and culminated with the decision that the NOAA's denial of the permit to import the belugas aligned with the contents of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, therefore the agency was in the right.
This particular act was set in place in 1972, and it "prohibits the capture of marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens elsewhere." The act also bans the importing of marine mammals, though a few exceptions are made when those imports are for marine mammals that are to be used for public display.
In her ruling, Totenberg said that the NOAA Fisheries "found significant and troubling inconsistencies in Georgia Aquarium's data and uncertainty associated with the available information regarding the abundance and stability of this particular whale population."
The agency said that the rejection of this permit request applies only to this particular request to import beluga whales and that, in the future, if the Georgia Aquarium can meet the requirements for other permit requests, they will be accepted.
[Photos Courtesy of Barry Williams/Getty Images]