Want to save the beluga whales? Stop turning them into tourist attractions.



Another beluga fights for its life at the Mystic Aquarium just three weeks after a male beluga dies. They arrived with three other people in May from Marineland in Canada despite warnings the move would be life threatening.

Mystic ignored science.

The move tore them away from the deep social relationships formed in the only household they had ever known, and the physical and psychological stress put them at increased risk of illness and death.

Mystic performed detailed medical tests on the belugas before importation – there is no reason to believe that she imported sick beluga whales. This means that the beluga whales have developed health problems from transport or after transport.

Yet now aquarium experts are bewildered. So-called mysterious diseases have claimed the lives of belugas in Mystic over the years – Aurora, Winston, Naku, to name a few.

Time to address the elephant in the room: captivity kills beluga whales. To prevent these illnesses and deaths, leave belugas in the ocean. Stop trading them. Stop raising them. Stop turning them into tourist attractions. Stop fundraising for so-called life-saving research carried out in captivity.

Adding insult to injury, over 200 online bidders and participants in a recent live auction raised $ 3.4 million for Mystic Aquarium. One of the most popular items – naming rights for three of the belugas. The right to name the fourth came from a raffle. Still, the aquarium had been aware of the female’s “worrying state of health” for weeks, according to her Facebook post.

Another deception of Mystic is to use research to justify the importation of beluga whales and his fundraising efforts. Its own president recently told the media that “you cannot study beluga whales or other whales in the wild in a substantial way because the technology does not exist”. He claims studies in nature are limited to aerial studies and a few limited visual studies.

Its president, who brings in a salary of over half a million dollars, is alarmingly wrong.

The game-changing research to help Cook Inlet’s endangered population is being conducted in the wild. And that’s according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which reported on the first continuous multi-year acoustic monitoring effort across Cook Inlet. He provided the most comprehensive description of the seasonal distribution of belugas and their foraging behavior to date. This knowledge is essential to understanding and managing the potential threats that hamper the recovery of this endangered population.

It is also ignoring new research that allows marine biologists to determine the age, sex and more of wild beluga whales with a small sample of skin. The new epigenetic methodology could revolutionize the way scientists study Cook Inlet beluga whales and provide valuable information on why they might not recover.

You would think that after all these years of “research” on beluga whales in captivity, the experts at Mystic would understand that they need a lot of space and socialization to thrive. In the wild, beluga pods vary from a few to hundreds.

Mystic has the largest outdoor beluga habitat in the country, but it’s not something to be proud of. The 750,000 gallon habitat is a combination of three different tanks – the main pool is connected to the retention pool and medical pool by a series of three sliding doors. The doors are not always open.

During my visit last summer, I saw a small shallow tub (it’s only 16.5 feet deep) compared to the 1000 meters deep that beluga whales could dive in the wild. I wondered how many repeating circles the three beluga whales in the aquarium had to swim to match the hundreds of miles of stream that had been stolen from them.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one – an impatient parent waiting for their child to get a better view of the beluga whales commented, “They seem to swim in similar circles. Circle. Circle. Circle.”

I couldn’t imagine Mystic adding five more to the tub.

I heard a child ask her mother where the belugas went because she couldn’t see them on the surface of the water.

She replied, “They are downstairs to make other visitors happy,” referring to an area of ​​the tank where there is an underwater viewing area.

I cringed at the thought that this is the message people leave aquariums with. That it is normal for wild animals to be in captivity, as if their purpose in life is to entertain humans.

As the families posed for photos, I thought “Shame on Mystic”. A photo op is not research or curation unless you are looking at how to make more money.

Captivity robs wild animals of their dignity and in Havok’s case, ended his life. And now another is sick.

Human animals should be able to do better – it’s time to redefine family entertainment and for Connecticut to ban whale importation and captive breeding.

Nicole Rivard is the editor-in-chief / government relations for Friends of Animals of Darien-Connecticut.



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