On August 28, 2020, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) issued a permit to Mystic Aquarium, allowing it to import five beluga whales from Marineland in Ontario. Although Animal Justice and other animal protection groups continue to have concerns with the proposal, the NMFS did include several key restrictions in the import permit that it issued. This was a major victory for Animal Justice and the coalition of organizations that we are working with to protect these five belugas. Among the important restrictions in the U.S. import permit are prohibitions on breeding the animals and using them in performances or visitor interactions—ensuring they cannot be used to increase the population of captive belugas, consistent with Canadian laws aimed at phasing out whale captivity.
Canadian officials will not confirm whether or not Marineland has applied for the export permit it needs to transport the belugas out of the country. We are working to ensure that if Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans issues the export permit, she includes strong and legally binding conditions to protect the animals. We are working to ensure that this and future decisions about transferring whales and dolphins to and from Canadian facilities will be transparent and based on the best available independent scientific advice on how to protect the interests of the animals involved. This will involve rigorously assessing the health of the animals to be transferred, an in-depth comparison of the facilities involved, and weighing the benefits of the transfer against the risks of transport and integrating the animals into new surroundings.
Sadly, three of the five belugas that were to be exported to Mystic Aquarium are now ill. Three new belugas are to take their place. This raises serious concerns about the health of Frankie, Qila, and Mira and the other 50+ belugas at Marineland. One of the whales, Frankie, appears to be suffering from a contagious condition (a Clostridium infection) that can be spread to other animals in a tank even without direct contact.
We are calling on provincial and federal authorities to investigate and address these ongoing concerns about the well-being of animals at Marineland. We are also urging the Minister not to grant any export permit to Marineland until the details of the illnesses suffered by these and any other belugas at the facility can be carefully and independently examined, and until all necessary steps have been taken to prevent the spread of any infectious diseases.
The best possible outcome for the belugas at Marineland is for them to be moved to a seaside sanctuary. More sanctuaries for belugas can be expected in the coming years, but if there are not enough sanctuary spaces for all of the 60+ whales and dolphins held at Marineland, it is important to ensure that all decisions involving captive cetaceans be fully informed and based on the best available science to ensure the animals involved are protected. Sadly, these five belugas cannot be released into the wild. We owe it to them to ensure that they have the best life possible in captivity.
Join the Animal Justice mailing list