Yesterday, an article in the New York Times reported on the controversy related to the proposed acquisition of 18 beluga whales by the Georgia Aquarium. Officials and biologists with that institution argue that the acquisition will permit valuable research while helping to sustain a healthy captive population of those cetaceans. On the other hand, as the article points out, the Aquarium and its affiliated marine parks also use the belugas for lucrative interactive programs that permit visitors to experience up-close encounters with the whales.
While zoos and aquariums certainly play an important role in education and research, the use of intelligent, highly social creatures for entertainment purposes is unacceptable to those of us concerned about the conservation and welfare of wild animals such as apes and cetaceans. Modern aquariums offer fabulous, naturalized displays of aquatic ecosystems, housing a vast array of invertebrates, eels, fish, sharks and other creatures but the captive display of dolphins and whales is both unnecessary and inhumane.
Conservationists understand that the preservation of natural habitat is the key to protecting our wild neighbors and that the study of animal behavior outside of their natural habitat is of questionable value. We do not support eco-tours that focus on unnatural, close encounters with wildlife and encourage that those creatures be observed from a safe and nonthreatening distance. To remove belugas from their family groups in the open northern seas and place them in an artificial pool, however large, is to deny their dignity as intelligent co-inhabitants of Planet Earth.