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Protests over beluga death

Protesters gathered outside the Atlanta Aquarium on Sunday 11 December following the most recent beluga death at the facility asking people to boycott the aquarium.

Marina the beluga whale died on 1 December, after losing her appetite and becoming disoriented (read previous report here.) Earlier this year another beluga died from an unspecified bone disease, and two whale sharks died as a result of a chemical used to treat their tank. The protesters were calling for protection of marine mammals, stating that large marine animals cannot be safely held or adquately provided for in captivity.

Belugas were amongst the first whale species to be brought into captivity and just like any other marine mammal do not fare well when confined. Their natural habitat is arctic and sub arctic waters where they travel for hundreds of miles and are highly sociable animals. They move in pods which commonly contain animals of the same gender and age. Groups of males may number in the hundreds, while mothers with calves generally mix in slightly smaller groups. Belugas are not endangered, but over hunting and pollution have reduced their numbers considerably and some populations are very vulnerable.

Several research projects have been conducted to determine population dynamics, but the methods currently being used need to be improved. According to Nunavut Tunngavik Inc (NTI), a legal representative of the Nunavut Inuit, US federal government researchers drowned six belugas while affixing satellite tracking tags to their backs. Satellite tagging can give invaluable information on movements of animals, diving performance and swimming speed. For this purpose animals are captured using hoop nets, but because beluga whales drown rapidly in such nets, it is important to watch the nets constantly and be prepared to pull up the captured belugas immediately to keep them alive.

Inuit hunters are now demanding that scientists change how they study Arctic wildlife, saying current methods entails handling too many animals - injuring and even killing some.

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Conservation through education - protecting whales, dolphins and the world's oceans for the future generations