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Deep Dive Into Belugas

October 11, 2012

Felicity Barringer, who wrote yesterday’s New York Times article about the controversy over whether the Georgia Aquarium should be allowed to import wild belugas from Russia, takes to the NYT’s Green blog to go much deeper into the ethical, moral and scientific arguments over the question of beluga captivity.

Partly because, apparently, this song was in her head the entire time she was reporting the story:

Anyhow, her post is a great example of how online space can add insight to a story in the printed newspaper and it’s worth reading the whole thing. But here are the questions she is trying to get at:

Therein lies the conundrum built into the decision facing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association in coming months. Is the goal of inspiring visitors — and doing research that may help conserve these animals in the wild — worth the price of taking extremely social animals with deep bonds of kinship out of the ocean, teaching them crowd-pleasing tricks and putting them on display in an aquarium?

Should animals that migrate hundreds of miles between their ice-clogged Arctic habitats and the estuaries at the mouths of rivers like Russia’s Amur or Canada’s St. Lawrence, that dive hundreds of yards deep to forage on the ocean floor, be confined to a tank with no more than a handful of other belugas for company?

Should belugas whose range of calls represents one of the most extensive vocabularies in the animal kingdom have to listen to their whistles bouncing off walls?

Unfortunately, these are not the issues NOAA is considering when it weighs the beluga import permit application. Which is why the Marine Mammal Protection Act is outdated and needs to be revisited.

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