US allows aquarium to import Marineland belugas but prohibits breeding and training them for shows. Canadian approval is still needed.
Under Bill S-203, cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) can only be imported and exported with a permit approved by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for the purpose of scientific research, if it's in the best interest of the animals.
World Animal Protection will be submitting recommendations to encourage an ethical and responsible phase out of the captive cetacean industry.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently approved a permit for Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut to import five beluga whales from Marineland but it comes with strong restrictions, due to the efforts of a coalition of animal and environmental protection groups.
Conditions have been attached to the import permit, prohibiting the aquarium from breeding the belugas, using them in public interactive programs (such as photo opportunities) and training them for performances. While the permit authorizes the use of the belugas for scientific research it excluded a proposed behavioral and reproduction study that would use the belugas for breeding, and then conduct research on the pregnant females and their offspring. This project raised concerns that the real purpose for the import permit is to perpetuate the captive beluga population for public display in the US. This is exactly the type of issue that Canadians fought to end in the passing of Bill S-203 which bans the trade, breeding and display of cetaceans for entertainment. The Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019.
What was the process for approving the permit and how did we get involved?
The NOAA application process included a public comment period and public hearing, for which the agency received more than 6,500 comments for and against the application. World Animal Protection joined the Animal Welfare Institute, Animal Justice, Zoocheck and a coalition of other NGOs in opposing the permit. The coalition’s concerns focused on the precedent that such a decision would set in allowing the trade of marine mammals and the risk that these belugas could lose the protections they won in Bill S-203. We are pleased that the NOAA has added conditions to the permit prohibiting breeding and the use of these belugas for performances.
Can they trade the belugas to another aquarium for breeding?
No. They cannot send any whales to another aquarium without approval from NOAA and the permit conditions would follow the whales whenever they go.
What happens now?
Before Mystic Aquarium can import the belugas, the facility must provide the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) with a detailed contraception plan to prevent breeding, and Marineland must apply and receive approval from the Canadian government for an export permit.
Since Canada’s ban on cetacean captivity is quite new, the Canadian government still needs to finalize the regulatory procedures for issuing import or export permits under the new law. Draft policies providing guidance to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Bernadette Jordan, for granting or denying permits to import and export cetaceans were recently posted for public comment until November 18th.
World Animal Protection will be submitting recommendations to encourage an ethical and responsible phase out of the captive cetacean industry. Many countries do not have comparable laws protecting these social, intelligent and vast roaming marine mammals, so Canada must ensure any captive cetaceans exported from the country continue to receive the protections which Canadians fought for.
You can also provide your commentary to the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans on its draft policies relating to cetaceans in captivity, to ensure the permits prohibit breeding and the use of cetaceans for performances and tourist interactions. Learn more here and submissions can be made through the Ministry’s consultations page.