"Should Belugas Swim Wild and Free?"

NOAA is considering the Georgia Aquarium's proposal to import 18 beluga whales from the Sea of Okhotsk for display and breeding at aquariums.

"It’s not often that one goes about reporting out a complex and emotionally charged article with a children’s song echoing in one’s head. But anyone who’s sung “Baby Beluga” to toddlers knows that it’s nigh impossible to write about belugas without those dotted-eighth notes tinkling in the background, along with these words:

    Baby Beluga in the deep blue sea
    Swim so wild and you swim so free
    Heaven above and the sea below
    And a little white whale on the go.

But it’s worth taking note that the lyrics contradict the ditty’s origin. Raffi’s song was inspired by a whale in captivity: Kavna, a beluga who spent most of her life at the Vancouver Aquarium before dying this summer at the age of 46.

Therein lies the conundrum built into the decision facing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association in coming months. Is the goal of inspiring visitors -- and doing research that may help conserve these animals in the wild -- worth the price of taking extremely social animals with deep bonds of kinship out of the ocean, teaching them crowd-pleasing tricks and putting them on display in an aquarium?

Should animals that migrate hundreds of miles between their ice-clogged Arctic habitats and the estuaries at the mouths of rivers like Russia’s Amur or Canada’s St. Lawrence, that dive hundreds of yards deep to forage on the ocean floor, be confined to a tank with no more than a handful of other belugas for company?"

Felicity Barringer reports for the New York Times' Green blog October 10, 2012.

Source: Green/NYT, 10/11/2012