Permit Application to Import 5 Beluga Whales for Scientific Research (File No. 22629, Mystic Aquarium)
On December 23, 2020, NOAA Fisheries issued a minor amendment to Permit No. 22629 and approved Mystic’s breeding prevention plan (hereafter the ‘plan’). The minor amendment authorizes the substitution of three beluga whales for import and research. For the purposes of the permit, as amended, NMFS considers all three substitute whales as members of the depleted Sakhalin Bay-Nikolaya Bay-Amur River stock. The plan was approved with additional conditions. Relevant documents are provided below under Supporting Materials.
On August 27, 2020, NOAA Fisheries issued Permit No. 22629 to Mystic Aquarium (Responsible Party: Stephen M. Coan, Ph.D.) to import five beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) for scientific research. The issued permit and relevant documents are provided below under Supporting Materials.
The permit authorizes the importation of five captive-born beluga whales from Marineland of Canada (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada) to Mystic Aquarium (Mystic, Connecticut, United States).
The beluga whales were born at Marineland of Canada and NOAA Fisheries considers one of the beluga whales to be a member of the depleted Sakhalin Bay-Nikolaya Bay-Amur River stock, because both parents are likely from the depleted stock. Four of the whales have mixed-stock parentage (i.e., one parent likely from the depleted stock and the other from a stock that has not been designated as depleted). For purposes of this permit application, NOAA Fisheries has treated all five whales as depleted.
The purpose of the research is to contribute knowledge and inform management and recovery of beluga whale populations in the wild including the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale distinct population segment and the depleted Sakhalin Bay-Nikolaya Bay-Amur River beluga whale stock. Research authorized includes the following Studies:
1) Neuroimmunological response to environmental and anthropogenic stressors;
2) Development of novel non-invasive techniques to assess health in free-ranging, stranded and endangered beluga whales;
3) Hearing and physiological response to anthropogenic sound;
4) Photogrammetry body condition studies;
5) Diving physiology;
6) Microbiome; and
8) Testing of prototype telemetry and imaging devices before deployment on wild beluga whales.
The permit does not authorize Study 7 (Behavioral and reproduction studies) including breeding of any of the imported beluga whales but includes reproductive monitoring as part of husbandry activities. Mystic Aquarium must submit a plan to provide safe and effective contraception or other means to prevent breeding of the five subject beluga whales, for approval by the Office Director prior to importation.
Consistent with other research permits authorizing captive maintenance, the permit is conditioned to require approval by the Office Director for any transfer or transport of the imported whales, including any transport to the Georgia Aquarium, and disposition of the whales at the termination of research.
Consistent with NOAA Fisheries’ regulations, public display is authorized incidental to the research. This incidental public display must not interfere with the research and must occur as part of an educational program describing the status of the species and its endangered and depleted stocks. The animals may not be used in public interactive programs or be trained for performance. Public demonstrations in which the whales perform trained husbandry, medical, research-related, and natural behaviors are authorized.
The permit is valid through August 31, 2025.
Announcement of Public Hearing
NOAA Fisheries held a public hearing related to this permit application on November 18, 2019. A transcript of the hearing is provided below under Supporting Materials.
The public comment period ended on December 2, 2019. Public comments may be viewed via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal and entering NOAA-NMFS-2019-0113 in the keyword search.