Belugas finally arrive at Mystic Aquarium after legal battle

MYSTIC, CONNECTICUT (AP) – Three Beluga whales arrived on Friday night at their new home in a Connecticut aquarium after a legal battle to import them and two others from Canada.

The whales were flown from Ontario to Connecticut on Friday, secured in special stretchers inside individual tanks and accompanied by a veterinarian and other marine-life experts.

Accompanied by a police escort, they arrived in Mystic on three tractor-trailers at about 7.40pm, where they were lifted on their stretchers by cranes into their new habitat. The transfer from truck to habitat took about a half hour to complete.

The remaining two Belugas arrived at Mystic Aquarium early yesterday from Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Government officials from Fisheries and Oceans Canada last month approved the export of the whales, seven months after US officials approved the move.

Connecticut-based Friends of Animals and other activists sought to block the transport in a lawsuit last fall against the US Commerce secretary and National Marine Fisheries Service, which had approved the research permit. A federal judge in March declined to issue an injunction.

The whales, which range in age from seven to 12, were born in captivity and officials said they cannot safely be released into the ocean.

Mystic officials said the five whales left an overcrowded habitat with about 50 other Belugas in Canada to join three other Belugas at the center of important research designed to benefit the species in the wild.

A Mystic Aquarium trainer rubs the tongue of a Beluga whale. PHOTO: AP