Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mariachi is Lonely Dance for Mystic Beluga

When wedding guest Bill Kurtz posted his youtube video, Mariachi Connecticut Serenades a Beluga Whale, he probably had no idea that the 1:45 minute piece of footage would become an international sensation.  To date there are nearly 1.4 million views and the internet search engine Google reports as many as 300 news articles on the subject.  Despite this widespread coverage, what seems to be lost in all of the “feel good” posts is the sad truth of the confined existence of “Juno” the dancing beluga and counterparts being held in captivity around the world.

The online inventory of marine mammals,, 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.

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
Of course Juno wasn’t dancing in the viral wedding video.  He was trained to bob his head in response to certain movements, like the arm movements of the guitar player in the mariachi band.  In return, the animal is rewarded with a prize of dead fish.  Officals from Mystic aquarium report that Juno’s diet consists entirely of dead squid, herring and capelin.  The odds are great that the highly social animal was simply bored and looking for some social interaction.  Migrating belugas have been found in pods with as many as 10,000 whales.

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

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

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


  1. If a child is born to a mother who is incarcerated, is it acceptable to keep the child in prison for the rest of his or her life? Of course not. Taking these animals from the wild is horrific, but it is equally unconscionable to think that because a whale was born in captivity, no crime has been committed.

    Janice Oceans

  2. To be isolated from the trees, the ground, the sky would be too much for most humans to endure yet each day more cetaceans are imprisoned in captivity. Today science has proven that the cetacean brain is even larger than mans. The extent of how intelligent these beings are still unknown. What will the dolphins and whales say to their jailers, and abusers say when someday we can communicate with these people of the sea. How will man explain his justification for ripping them from their families,making them perform for food, and murdering their families? And man calls himself human-humane? More people are standing up for dolphins every day. Together we be the voice for those that cannot speak, the people of the sea.

  3. “We are all animals of this planet. We are all creatures. And nonhuman animals experience pain sensations just like we do. They too are strong, intelligent, industrious, mobile, and evolutional. They too are capable of growth and adaptation. Like us, firsthand foremost, they are earthlings. And like us, they are surviving. Like us they also seek their own comfort rather than discomfort. And like us they express degrees of emotion. In short like us, they are alive.”- Joaquin Phoenix | quote from EARTHLINGS

  4. Dolphins and whales do not belong in captivity to endure cruel inhumane conditions for the benefit of entertaining humans.

    Dolphins in the wild live from between 18 years to 40 years and whales can live up to 75 captivity most dolphins do make it past 2 years and many that are torn from their families in the wild die within the first 90 days...The Sea Parks do not give these staggering statistics to the public.

    Awareness is key, then becoming actively involved is critical...they have no voice...You are their only hope....#dolphinsloveus
    ><((((ยบ> ♥°°°♫ ♫ .

  5. Aquariums all over America have become popular wedding venues. Why do people want to get married at places like Mystic Aquarium? Photos of brides with the Beluga whale Juno looking at them. Why would anyone want to exchange vows in front of a whale that is tragically held hostage in a tank? What a sad and uneducated wedding venue choice.

  6. However cruel it is to capture and slaughter these magnificent creatures some of the animals are rescued. I have been to the mystic aquarium many times and I have seen the care that is given to the now four beluga whales, Naku, kela, Juno, and Nalulark. The four whales seem geniunely happy. They interact with each other and the guests of the aquarium. They are free to laze about their large tank and do what they wish. if the whales did not want to do the tricks that the trainers use during their enrichment sessions they wouldn't. The trainers do not force the whales to do anything they dont want to. Now due to the great advancements in care for the whales and other animals they now survive much longer in aquariums than in the wild. The whales have their own choices and do what they want when they want to. Many other aquariums treat their animals unfairly, but to use mystic aquarium as an example of unfair treatment is not a well supported argument. Their animals are taken care of incredibly well. How other aquariums treat their animals is a horrible shame.

    1. Thank you, I was about to post something like this but it appears that you've already said all that needs to be said. :) Juno especially fully 100% enjoys being around people, often times more than his own kind! He could spend hours by the underwater viewing windows, and loves to think up new ways to splash the guests, or make little kids laugh or scream! He adores attention and loves to see things at the glass, which is exactly what he was doing in that video. The head bobbing? I know the hand signal for that, and the mariatchi band was not doing anything that could even resemble the hand signal. Nope, Juno was doing that on his own. Not every aquarium is as bad as you may think they are.

  7. have you not read the article? captivity sucks. period.

  8. ignorance like that is a tremendous part of the problem.. do you truthfully believe that these intelligent magnificent creatures are trying to figure out ways to entertain people.. and love being imprisoned.?! they long to roam the open seas with other pods, hear the sounds of the ocean, go where they want, hunt, mate, live the life of a free whale.. they might be trying to pass the time.. do not convince yourself just because they are not overtly abused that they are not suffering.. lets see how long they live compared to how long they are supposed to iive... read death at sea world and get a clue. the denial thing really stinks.

  9. Mystic is also a research-baed, verified non-profit. So these whales are not the "cash cows" you perceive them to be. Also, if this species is critically endangered, isn't it a good thing to have some in human care? So they're safe from wild slaughter or habitat destruction?

    Most people don't care about beluga whales. They've never seen one. They don't give a crap. It's the interaction that a safe, responsible place like Mystic can provide that allows a human to make a connection with a species like the beluga and begin to care about wild conservation.