WASHINGTON, November 5 (RIA Novosti) – A US aquarium denied permission to import 18 Russian Beluga whales has launched a legal battle to overturn the decision by US federal authorities, an environmental policy website reported this week.
“We could walk away. But we’re not prepared to do that, because we all believe so deeply and we’re so committed to this project,” Scott Higley, a spokesman for the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, told the US-based news site Environment Energy Publishing (EE).
In August, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) rejected the aquarium’s application to import the whales, citing concerns that five of the animals may have been nursing when they were captured in Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk between 2006 and 2011.
Granting the request could negatively impact the whale population, according to the decision by the NMFS, a division of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The federal agency cited the US Marine Mammal Protection Act in its ruling.
The law does not allow for appeals, prompting the aquarium to file a lawsuit on Sept. 30 in the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
The NMFS has 60 days from that date to respond. An agency spokeswoman contacted by EE declined to comment Monday.
The whales are currently stranded in limbo at the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station in Russia and have become something of a cause célèbre among US environmental activists.
Oscar-winning actress Kim Basinger in August wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin urging him to release the whales from captivity and return them to her ocean home.