Yesterday, Judge Amy Totenberg of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia upheld the National Marine Fisheries Service’s denial of an import permit application for 18 wild-caught beluga whales for the Georgia Aquarium, SeaWorld facilities, and two other aquaria. We and others had been pressing the agency to reject this application since we learned about it in 2012, and The HSUS also filed an amicus curiae brief in the case.
This ruling is a big marker indicating that our movement is on the verge of closing out one more ugly real-world manifestation of animal exploitation – the commercial imports of whales for captive display. We’re doing the same thing with the use of chimpanzees in experiments and the display and performance of elephants in the circus, in addition to widely criminalizing other forms of exploitation such as dogfighting and cockfighting. That’s the kind of sea change our movement has been hungering for, and it’s part of an emerging humane economy that is superior in every respect to the old ways of doing business – ways that rely on harming animals, wasting their lives, and disrupting the ecosystems in which they thrive, for no compelling purpose.
The beautiful thing is, there’s no going back. Once we end these forms of animal exploitation, we need not look back with remorse, regret, or a feeling of nostalgia – just a feeling of pride and a sense that we are finding a new normal. We don’t need to keep whales in captivity to teach our young people about these majestic creatures and their ocean habitats. We don’t need elephants to have a grand time at the circus. And we don’t need to use chimpanzees in invasive research for our benefit or for theirs.
There are a few other cruelties that we hope to put on this list before long: the Taiji dolphin slaughter; the dog meat trade; commercial whaling in the few countries that cling to the practice; the live-grinding of male chicks in the egg industry; and the battery cage, gestation crate, and veal crate in factory farming. Each of these cruelties, or instruments of cruelty, is reaching the end of its lifespan. And I say, “good riddance.”
In 2012, the Georgia Aquarium and its partners sought permission to import 18 beluga whales captured from the Sea of Okhotsk near Russia. When the whales were captured in 2010, five of them were less than two years old, were likely still nursing, and were not yet independent of their mothers. The NMFS rejected the permit application, and Judge Totenberg found that the agency’s decision was well-reasoned and dismissed a lawsuit challenging the permit denial.
There is every reason to believe that this decision sounds the death knell for the importation of wild-caught marine mammals into the United States. Even SeaWorld, in on the original plan, said it has turned a corner and wants no more involvement with the capture of whales from the wild. That was more than 20 years since the last wild-caught marine mammal was imported directly into the United States for public display, and this last gasp by the Georgia Aquarium has now been met with an emphatic “no” from the federal courts.
This is truly a breathtaking moment in the history of animal protection, and one in which we’re ending one of the worst animal cruelties conclusively, definitively, and irrevocably. There’s a long way to go, but it’s sure a moment to savor.