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Lawmakers Hear Public Testimony On Bill To Ban Captive Beluga Whales

Paul Wade
NOAA Fisheries
A beluga whale in Cook Inlet, Alaska

Connecticut lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban the sale and breeding of certain whales held in captivity. 

Right now, Mystic Aquarium has three beluga whales, which would fall under the ban. The bill would make it illegal for cetaceans -- a family that includes dozens of different marine mammals -- to be sold or bred in captivity in Connecticut. 

Tracy Romano, Mystic Aquarium’s chief scientist, expressed opposition to the ban during a public hearing of the legislative Environment Committee on Friday.

Romano told lawmakers that federal research indicates endangered Cook Inlet belugas off the coast of Alaska are declining in number more quickly than previously thought. Studying whales in the wild and captivity is needed to help address the problem of declining marine populations, Romano said.

“I’m seeing species disappear and become extinct … Cook Inlet belugas are on the decline,” Romano said. “We’re really trying all we can do, as quickly as we can, to really apply our research to help wild populations.” 

“If the ability to study animals in human care goes away, then I worry about those species in the wild,” Romano said. 

Still, some states and countries are moving toward captivity bans.

In 2017, California enacted a law phasing out keeping orcas, or “killer whales,” in captivity. 

Last year, Canada passed legislation banning whales from being bred or held in captivity, while “grandfathering” whales already at aquariums. 

Dozens wrote to legislators in favor of Connecticut’s proposed captivity ban, including Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute, who also spoke before legislators on Friday.

“This is not something totally new, although it is, in fact, progressive,” Rose said. “ I really do feel this bill is part of a trend; it’s not as radical as it’s been portrayed.” 

Around 150 people submitted testimony opposing the proposed state ban, including the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association, scientists from UConn, and Connecticut’s director of tourism. 

The measure has yet to be voted out of committee.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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