Records show that research was paid for by SeaWorld and the Georgia Aquarium, along with three other marine-park owners: Ocean Park Corp. of Hong Kong; Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn.; and Kamogawa Sea World of Japan.
NOAA must also decide whether both the capture and transport of the whales was or will be “humane.”
According to Georgia Aquarium’s application, the 18 beluga whales were captured by having two 45-foot-long boats known as “baidars” surround the animals with a net while up to a dozen smaller boats circled around the perimeter watching for entanglements. Once the net was closed, one of the baidars beached itself and the collection team then pulled the net to shore by hand.
Of the 18 whales, two were captured in 2006, 11 were captured in 2010 and five were captured last year. All are currently being held at the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station on the Russian coast of the Black Sea.
Georgia Aquarium currently has four beluga whales in its collection, according to the permit application. SeaWorld has 17 belugas spread across its three namesake parks, including four in the “Wild Arctic” attraction at SeaWorld Orlando, where the park also sells “beluga interaction” packages that begin at $119 a person.
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Activists accuse the Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld of ignoring other alternatives, such as acquiring belugas already in captivity.
For example, there are nearly 40 beluga whales at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario. But SeaWorld has a fractious relationship with that facility; the two sides just went through a nasty court battle after Marineland refused to return a killer whale that SeaWorld had sent it through a breeding-loan agreement (in which SeaWorld received four beluga whales).
In its application, the Georgia Aquarium states that it had “numerous discussions” with Marineland about acquiring some of its belugas, but the result was “an incompatible relationship, both financially and philosophically.”
“Just because SeaWorld and Georgia Aquarium might not be able to get along with (Marineland owner) John Holer and Marineland,” said Vail, of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, “that doesn’t justify them going directly to the wild.”
(c)2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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