A Georgia aquarium went to court on Wednesday seeking federal permission to bring 18 captured beluga whales to the United States from Russia.
The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta sued the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries service in September for the right to acquire the whales, which were captured off the coast of northern Russia in the Sea of Okhotsk and are currently in the care of Russian scientists.
Lawyers for both sides argued the case before a U.S. district judge in Atlanta on Wednesday, but a final decision could be two months away.
The government contends that bringing the whales to the United States would contribute to the depletion of the known wild beluga whale population and violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The aquarium disputes that and wants NOAA Fisheries to hand over more internal documents to show how the government made its decision.
As recently as March 2013 the permit to bring in the whales seemed to be getting the green light, said Daniel Diffley, an attorney for the aquarium. But five months later the government denied the aquarium’s permit.
“If they’re going to change their minds, we’re entitled to look at why,” he said. “We believe the decision is arbitrary.”
The aquarium also wants to submit more studies about the known whale population.
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