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Permit Application to Import 5 Beluga Whales for Scientific Research (File No. 22629, Mystic Aquarium)


Marine Mammal Protection Act
Action Status
Affected Species



On August 27, 2020, NOAA Fisheries issued Permit No. 22629 to Mystic Aquarium (Responsible Party: Stephen M. Coan, Ph.D.) to import five captive-born beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) for scientific research. The whales may be imported from Marineland of Canada (Niagara Falls, Ontario) to Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.

On December 23, 2020, we issued a minor amendment to the permit and approved Mystic’s breeding prevention plan. The minor amendment authorized the substitution of three beluga whales for import and research. The breeding prevention plan was approved with additional conditions.

The whales were imported May 14 and 15, 2021, as reflected in the Marine Mammal Data Sheets (MMDS) for these animals.

On August 6, 2021, the whale identified as “Havok” (NOA0010685) died. The incident report and preliminary necropsy report for "Havok" were submitted on August 17, 2021.

The histopathology report and final MMDS identifying the cause of death as “gastrointestinal pathology” were submitted on October 14 and November 8, 2021, respectively.

A second whale, “Havana” (NOA0010675) died on February 11, 2022. The incident report and preliminary necropsy report for “Havana” were submitted on February 25, 2022. The histopathology report and final MMDS identifying the cause of death as “storage disease (brain and spinal cord)” were submitted on April 25 and May 10, 2022, respectively.

If a mortality occurs, the permit requires Mystic to submit an incident report that includes a complete description of the events, identification of steps that will be taken to reduce the potential for additional mortalities, and reports related to the cause of death including the necropsy report, histopathology, and any other relevant reports.

Since “Havok’s” death, all research activities have been suspended until NOAA Fisheries authorizes research to resume.

Relevant documents are provided below under Supporting Materials.

Status of the Whales

The beluga whales were born at Marineland of Canada and are progeny of beluga whales that likely originated from the depleted Sakhalin Bay-Nikolaya Bay-Amur River stock. For purposes of this permit, NOAA Fisheries treated all five whales as depleted.

Permitted Research

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
  7. Testing of prototype telemetry and imaging devices before deployment on wild beluga whales.

Terms and Conditions of the Permit

The permit does not authorize the proposed behavioral and reproduction studies including breeding of any of the imported beluga whales. However, reproductive monitoring as part of husbandry activities is allowed.

Consistent with other research permits authorizing captive maintenance, the permit requires 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.

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.

Public Comments

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.

Supporting Materials

Last updated by Office of Protected Resources on 06/21/2022