The aquarium had been framing its need for the wild beluga whales in terms of the threat of extinction - extinction from aquariums, that is. "The population of beluga whales in accredited North American zoological facilities is dwindling," the aquarium stated as justification for the import project. "Today, more than 23 million guests and more than one million students have been inspired by beluga whales at Georgia Aquarium in its 10 years."
In actuality, beluga whales are relatively abundant worldwide, numbering at least 150,000, and probably more. Beluga whales are also extremely social. They swim long distances together, hunt together and interact using a variety of sounds. In certain regions of Alaska, however, the population is suffering because of human activities: hunting, harvesting and devastation to the environment.
As for the 18 Russian belugas, who were caught after the Georgia Aquarium expressed its intention to import them, it is not immediately clear what their future holds.