Animal Law Review

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Beluga whales have been displayed in aquariums and zoos for decades, but the end of captive beluga displays in the United States is near, thanks to Georgia Aquarium v. Pritzker. In 2012, the Georgia Aquarium, on behalf of members of the beluga cooperative breeding program, applied to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for a special permit allowing the breeding cooperative to import eighteen beluga whales from Russia. After NMFS denied the permit, the Aquarium brought suit, arguing that NMFS’s denial was arbitrary and capricious and that without an influx of belugas, the United States captive beluga whale breeding program could not remain stable. The court ruled against the Aquarium. This Article first discusses the current state of the worldwide beluga population and issues with captive beluga breeding. The Article next discusses the Georgia Aquarium case in depth and its staggering implications. Although this Article argues for the immediate end of captive beluga displays, it predicts that without the ability to import wild-caught beluga whales, the United States’ captive breeding program almost certainly will not survive. The Article argues that by 2050, U.S. beluga displays will be a thing of the past.

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