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Public Weighs In On Beluga Whale Debate

Steven Snodgrass
Wikimedia Commons
Head of a beluga showing its distinctive white coloring and large frontal prominence.

The public has until midnight Monday to weigh in on whether Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut should be permitted to import five beluga whales from an amusement park in Canada.

Beluga whales are not yet endangered. They are largely federally protected from being imported unless it’s for research. 

Mystic Aquarium already has three beluga whales. You may know Juno, the smiley, all-white whale who went viral when he photobombed a governor’s press conference.

Tracy Romano wants to study five more belugas that were born at MarineLand in Canada. Romano is the chief scientist at Mystic Aquarium. She wants to test a technique that allows her to analyze the health markers of belugas by catching their breath on a petri dish, instead of drawing their blood. 

“We’ve been able to isolate their hormones and see how well their immune system is functioning just from their breath. So we feel that moving those five foreign animals who were born at MarineLand to Mystic Aquarium will not only further and expedite their research, but will give those animals one-on-one healthcare, attention and enrichment. ” 

But Naomi Rose at the Animal Welfare Institute says travel is stressful for the whales and the research should be done in Canada.

“We are not saying ‘don’t do this research.’ We do believe that belugas are threatened in their Arctic habitat with global climate change, and we would like to see strong research done. It’s just we don’t like the international trade in these animals.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will consider more than 6,000 public comments in its decision whether to issue a permit to import the whales to Connecticut. 

Cassandra Basler, a former senior editor at WSHU, came to the station by way of Columbia Journalism School in New York City. When she's not reporting on wealth and poverty, she's writing about food and family.