Maris, the beluga whale, and her newborn calf, can be seen through an underwater viewing window at the Georgia Aquarium earlier this year. The female calf was born May 10, on Mother’s Day. The calf died a short time later.

Georgia Aquarium's new image problems: 'The emperor is buck naked'

“This is about hypocrisy. The emperor is buck naked.”

That's what Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute, had to say about the Georgia Aqaurium, which is locked in a bitter legal fight with the federal government, animal welfare advocates, environmentalists and celebrities over its efforts to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia.

“The aquarium’s image is suffering and it should,” Rose said. “It is presenting itself as this conservation organization and at the same time its giving you a Vegas-style dolphin show.”

It’s not the only negative attention the aquarium has garnered of late. Earlier this year, a troubling tape surfaced showing a dolphin trainer, who was set to become a senior vice president at the Atlanta attraction, allegedly hitting and kicking the animals at a theme park in Spain. Soon afterward, he was found dead in his car in Spain, an apparent suicide.

The stakes are high for a nonprofit organization that relies on public donations and and consistently draws a stream of more than 2 million visitors a year.

A diminished Georgia aquarium would not only undercut the preservation work they’ve established — and rewrite what has largely been a success story in Atlanta — but it would also threaten a centerpiece of downtown tourism.

Click here to read the complete MyAJC report, including reaction from the aquarium and visitors

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