Tourists view a pod of beluga whales at Marienland in Niagara Falls. The captivity of the whales at the theme park was grandfathered under recent laws against captive whales, dolphins and porpoises. Marineland made a deal to sell five of its 54 belugas to a U.S. aquarium. (Scott Dunlop- ca

Sale of Canadian beluga whales to U.S. aquarium delayed by lawsuit

The capture and captivity of whales and dolphins has come under heavy scrutiny in recent years. Keeping whales and dolphins in captivity as well as import and export of the animals was made illegal in Canada last year.

However, the Niagara Falls tourist attraction, Marineland, which has several of the mammals was grandfathered under the law.  Last year it made a deal to sell five of its belugas to Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut for research and breeding purposes. Export of the belugas is permitted under Canadian law only under two specific conditions, for research purposes, or if it’s in the best interest of the animals.

Beluga are an Arctic species but are also found in the busy St Lawrence Estuary. Fisheries and Oceans Canada says an estimated 10,000 beluga whales existed in the St. Lawrence Estuary and Gulf prior to 1885. In 2012, that number was down to 900. They are threatened with habitat loss, shipping and pleasure craft noise, and toxic pollution (The Canadian Press)

In March 2019, the aquarium said it had 54 belugas and the sale would allow more room for the other whales. Mystic Aquarium which has three belugas has a 2.8 million litre outdoor habitat which is claimed to be the largest in the U.S.. It says getting the Canadian whales will allow it to continue its non-invasive research to help boost the endangered species population.

In a statement last year, Marineland said, “”We welcome the opportunity to support Mystic Aquarium’s world-class research and are confident that the series of research studies they intend to undertake will significantly improve humanity’s understanding of this species, and positively promote conservation of wild beluga populations”.

The deal, according to some reports, was to have seen the whales arrive in the U.S. this month, but Mystic has called for a delay after an animal rights group filed a lawsuit in September against the U.S government to stop the transfer

Friends of Animals, based in Connecticut, said the government in approving the deal did not adequately consider the harm of moving the whales. They are highly social animals and the group says being removed from the long-term relationships with the others at Marineland will cause them harm. They say the deal violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Mystic says it will now not import the whales before March 31, in order to give the court time to decide on the lawsuit.

Additional information-sources

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