The online inventory of marine mammals, www.ceta-base.com, reports 73 beluga whales in captivity in the United States and Canada. Of these, 28 are captive born. Historical records of captive belugas date back over 150 years to 1861 and the time of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York. The showman is reported to have displayed at least 11 different beluga whales between 1861 and 1868, most lived only days in his “care” and at least three perishing in two separate building fires. http://www.ceta-base.com/library/cetabasedocs/captivebelugas_august2010.pdf
Among the many notable characteristics of the beluga whale are its white coloring (beluga means “white” in Russian), the absence of a dorsal fin, the ability to swim backwards, and an oversized melon which facilitates echolation. Unlike most whales, belugas can move their necks from side to side so as to give the appearance of dancing. A characteristic singing has also dubbed the beluga as the “sea canary”.
In the wild, belugas are found in pods in arctic and sub-arctic waters. They swim thousands of miles over the course of just months. Juno, who is in Mystic on a breeding loan from SeaWorld Orlando, and his pals “Naku” and “Kela” are confined to a one-acre outdoor habitat called the “Arctic Coast”. Although larger than the some dolphinaria, the confined space of the 750,000 gallon pools is a far cry from the ocean that Naka and Kela once called home. Unlike his two female companions, Juno was born in captivity and will never know the sheer joy of playfully propelling through icy waters with his podmates.
Instead of migrating through arctic waters, the Mystic Aquarium belugas are subjected to daily “encounter” programs. Visitors pay $130 for a 90-minute interactive program in the whales’ habitat. According to the aquarium’s website, “Participants touch the whale’s back and belly and see how they breathe, spout and "sing." Aquarium trainers will explain how we care for the whales and demonstrate the way in which contact sessions are beneficial to the whale’s health and well-being.”
|Will Ferrell with Nanuq at SeaWorld|
In recent months, celebrity Betty White has been filmed interacting with captive-born Beethoven, the Beluga whale at the Georgia Aquarium and comedian Will Ferrell was seen kissing wild-caught Nanuq at SeaWorld San Diego.
From a conservation perspective, the beluga whale is considered “near threatened”. Those who live in the Cook Island Inlet of Alaska are reported as critically endangered. It is believed that the global population of beluga whales is about 100,000.
It is the opinion of Save Misty the Dolphin that beluga whales, as well as all other marine mammals, belong in the open sea. Captivity is cruel. It deprives marine mammals like dolphins, orcas and beluga whales of literally every innate activity known to their species: hunting, migrating and interacting socially as pods in the ocean. Captive animals suffer from a range of health and mental health issues and live significantly shorter lives compared to their peers in the ocean. It is time for people of the world to recognize the inherent cruelty of captivity and to simply stop supporting SeaWorld and other captive facilities. Wild caught marine mammals, who are taken from their pods, experience extreme suffering during the capture process. In Taiji, Japan, up to 20,000 dolphins are hunted annually between September and March. A portion of these animals are taken for training and sold into the international captive market. The rest are slaughtered for food. For more on the plight of the dolphins of Taiji, visit www.countdowntocove.com.
Save Misty the Dolphin is a social media campaign committed to ending the slaughter and captivity of vulnerable marine mammals worldwide. Follow us on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Savemistythedolphin.
No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal. --Jacques Yves Cousteau