The federal government has denied a request by the Georgia Aquarium to import 18 beluga whales from Russia that were captured from the wild.
Listen to an audio version of this story.
The aquarium made the request more than a year ago on behalf of a group of marine parks across the U.S.
But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) denied the request citing it didn’t meet all the requirements under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Michael Payne is the agency’s Chief of Permits and Conservation Division.
“We were unable to determine whether or not the proposed import by itself or in a combination of other activities would have a significant adverse impact on the stock of whales which were being targeted for the live-capture industry,” Payne says.
He says the import could cause more whales to be captured from their natural habitats. Beluga whales are considered a near threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The application was the first in 20 years to ask for recently caught wild marine animals for display. It also spurred opposition and criticism from animal rights activists.
In a statement, aquarium officials says they’re “deeply” disappointed by the decision.
NOAA says the Aquarium has 60 days to appeal the decision.