Darien animal rights group sues to block Mystic Aquarium from importing belugas
A Darien-based animal rights group has filed a lawsuit seeking to block Mystic Aquarium from importing five new Beluga whales from Canada, claiming doing so would violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the National Environmental Protection Act.
The lawsuit, filed in Connecticut district court Thursday, names Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross as a defendant, along with the commerce department’s National Marine Fisheries Service.
The suit asks the courts to vacate a permit from the fisheries service allowing Mystic Aquarium to import the five beluga whales from Marineland in Ontario.
The suit’s complaint claims Beluga whales in captivity are subject to “extreme emotional and physical suffering,”
“Beluga whales do not belong in captivity. They are highly social and intelligent animals who roam large distances in the wild. Captivity robs them of their most basic needs,” the opening lines of the complaint read.
An email seeking comment from Mystic Aquarium went unanswered Thursday evening.
The suit claims importing the marine mammals violates federal environmental protection laws because the whales were born in captivity from populations that were already depleted.
“Shamefully, their wildness, what makes them whole, was already stolen from them before they were even born,” Stephen Hernick, an attorney for Friends of Animals said in a prepared statement Thursday.
“They were born to belugas ripped from the wild in the early 2000s from what is now a depleted population of belugas off the coast of Russia. Not only is it unprecedented for the government to issue a permit to import members of a depleted species of belugas for purported research, it is illegal,” Hernick said.
The suit notes that Canada banned the display of captive marine mammals in 2015.
Friends of Animals also claims the move would tear the animals away from social bonds they have established at Marineland, and the “long and foreign voyage on trucks and airplanes” would emotionally and psychologically scar them, the nonprofit organization said.
The organization has a history of filing suits aimed at protecting wild animals. In 2013, the group sued several federal agencies over the practice of shooting snowy owls near John F. Kennedy airport, after several jets reported striking the birds.