Belugas at the Georgia Aquarium

Ga Aquarium listed among worst tanks for dolphins and whales in North America

The Georgia Aquarium has one of the worst tanks for dolphins and whales in North America, according to a list released by In Defense of Animals.

The nonprofit international animal rights and rescue organization listed the Georgia Aquarium at No. 4, calling the local attraction a “dying pool (that) plumbs the depths in exploitation of intelligent and sensitive animals.”

The list comes one month after aquarium officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it would no longer take dolphins or whales caught in the wild.

The “10 Worst Tanks for Dolphins and Whales in North America” lists the Atlanta aquarium behind several SeaWorld parks, MarineLand in Ontario, Canada, and Puerto Aventuras Dolphin Discovery in Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Georgia Aquarium officials called In Defense of Animals “an activist-driven organization that leads only with the forethought of removing cetaceans from accredited zoological facilities” in a statement emailed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The statement continues, “This organization and its list are by no means credible or scientific, no empirical data is mentioned and scientific experts provided no justification for their reasoning.”

 According to a press release from In Defense of Animals, the list was created to “expose and represent the misery and suffering of the oceans’ most intelligent and complex mammals in captivity.”

The 10 “worst tanks” were selected from 60 facilities.

 In Defense of Animals cites the Georgia Aquarium’s attempts to import the beluga whales captured by Russian scientists in the Sea of Okhotsk between 2006 and 2011 as one of several reasons for its high ranking on the list. The National Marine Fisheries Service subsequently denied a permit application for the whales. A later appeal was also denied. Officials recently announced their policy change regarding wild-caught dolphins and whales and told the AJC that they are looking for a permanent home for the belugas, which are currently housed in a marine station in Russia.

 In Defense of Animals also criticized the Georgia Aquarium for having “swim-with-dolphin programs,” “holding belugas inside an enclosed building” and “shipping belugas across the country with no apparent regard for their social, psychological and physical well-being.”

Three adult belugas and two infants have died at the local aquarium since it opened in 2005.

Here is the full statement from the Georgia Aquarium:

“Today, In Defense of Animals released their list of Ten Worst Tanks for Dolphins and Whales in North America. This is an activist-driven organization that leads only with the forethought of removing all cetaceans from accredited zoological facilities. Without accredited zoos and aquariums, millions of people would not be able to learn about thousands of aquatic species and in turn, learn to respect and conserve them.  This organization and its list are by no means credible or scientific, no empirical data is mentioned and scientific experts provided no justification for their reasoning. Georgia Aquarium is accredited by the Alliance for Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) and the Association for Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Both of which are prestigious, scientific, and credible. Our facilities are subject to stringent standards of inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR).

“Georgia Aquarium is among those named specifically for our Beluga Import Project. We have spoken publically about the importance of this project and why it is so important to the survival of the beluga whale species. You can read more about the Project by visiting here: www.belugaimportproject.org. Georgia Aquarium researchers and zoological experts have worked tirelessly for years conducting beluga whale research in the field and at Georgia Aquarium. Georgia Aquarium is ranked the no. 1 aquarium in the U.S. and the no. 2 aquarium in the world by TripAdvisor and we honor our commitment of excellence to our animals and our guests each and every day.”

Update: Four of the aquariums that are included in this list are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Kris Vehrs, interim president and CEO has released a statement saying the non-profit organization "rejects any list created by personal beliefs and innuendo rather than hard science and data."

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