Cetacean Society International

Working for whales, dolphins and porpoises worldwide

Groups Welcome Federal Agency's Decision to Protect Russian Beluga Whales

Posted on 4 April 2016

Washington, DC – April 4, 2016 – The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Cetacean Society International (CSI), Earth Island Institute (EII), and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) lauded the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for its proposed designation of the Sakhalin Bay-Amur River population of beluga whales in Russia as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). A depleted designation would make it illegal to import any belugas from this population into the United States for public display. The proposed rule must undergo a 60-day public comment period before it is finalized.

"We are thrilled with this decision," said Dr. Naomi Rose, AWI marine mammal scientist. "These belugas may be in Russia, but what we do here in the United States sets an example for authorities responsible for marine mammal protection everywhere. This decision sends a strong message that this country will not be part of an unsustainable and inhumane trade in live belugas."

In 2014, the groups submitted a petition to designate this population of belugas as depleted after Georgia Aquarium, a U.S. facility, attempted to import 18 of the whales in 2012. The science clearly showed that the population was well below 60 percent of its historic size, and therefore depleted under MMPA criteria. The groups supported NMFS' decision to deny Georgia Aquarium's import permit and intervened on behalf of the agency after it was subsequently sued by the facility. While a September 2015 court ruling finally upheld the agency's decision, the possibility remained that other facilities, or even Georgia Aquarium itself, could apply again for import permits. A depleted designation would eliminate this possibility, even for belugas captured from this stock that are already in captivity.

A designation will also provide a framework for U.S. agencies to promote stronger protections for the Sakhalin Bay-Amur River population of belugas. Russia has allowed captures from this population for the purpose of public display for many years. Many of the captured whales are used in Russia's domestic facilities or are shipped to China and other destinations every year.

"The decision to designate the Sakhalin-Amur belugas as depleted should encourage Russian authorities to reconsider this trade and allow this beleaguered population to recover," stated Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for WDC. "Hopefully this action will serve as a signal that science and the precautionary principle can work hand-in-hand to guide international protection of extremely vulnerable populations of marine mammals outside of U.S. waters."

"NMFS' decision helps to demonstrate our nation's resolve not to support the international trade of species and populations in peril," said William Rossiter, CSI executive director for advocacy, science and grants. "It would be wonderful if this decision influences other nations, but it's absolutely imperative for the United States to declare ‘not here, not now.'"

"The beluga whale population in the Pacific is facing a number of threats, including pollution, killing by local native groups, and, in the not too distant future, the disruptions caused by global warming," stated Mark J. Palmer, associate director of EII's International Marine Mammal Project. "Catching beluga whales for a shortened life in captivity should not continue for these vulnerable populations."

For more information on the groups' efforts to protect the Sakhalin Bay-Amur River belugas, visit https://awionline.org/cases/protection-beluga-whales.

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About the Animal Welfare Institute
The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. For more information, visit www.awionline.org.

About Cetacean Society International
For 42 years CSI has worked to stop human activities that kill, harm or harass cetaceans, while enhancing public awareness of and concern for cetaceans and the marine environment. www.csiwhalesalive.org.

About Earth Island Institute
The International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute works to protect whales, dolphins and their marine habitat. For more information, visit http://savedolphins.eii.org/.

About Whale and Dolphin Conservation
Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) is an international charity dedicated to the conservation and welfare of whales, dolphins and porpoises worldwide. Established in 1987 with offices in the United States, United Kingdom, Argentina, Germany, and Australia, WDC works to reduce and ultimately eliminate the continuing threats to cetaceans and their habitats, while striving to raise awareness of these remarkable animals and the need to protect them in their natural environment. Visit www.whales.org to learn more.

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CSI is a founding partner in the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA).

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