Cetacean Society International

Working for whales, dolphins and porpoises worldwide

Welcome to Cetacean Society International

CSI is an all-volunteer, non-profit conservation, education and research organization working on behalf of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and their marine environment. Please look through the pages on this site as shown on the menu bar above and get to know us better. You can help us by becoming a member of CSI. Please send questions or comments to comments@csiwhalesalive.org.

CSI Program with Don Sineti on October 26

At 6:00 p.m. on 26 October 2015, CSI cofounder Don Sineti will present a program on The Evolution of the Relationship Between Humans and Whales Through the Ages, presented in song, art, artifacts and stories. This program will be held at The New Children's Museum, 950 Trout Brook Drive, West Hartford, CT. The public is invited to attend this fascinating program.

Federal Court Affirms Denial of Russian Beluga Import for Georgia Aquarium

Posted on 29 September 2015

Russian belugas
Russian belugas awaiting sale in Vladivostok

Washington, DC – (September 29, 2015) – A federal court today affirmed the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) denial of Georgia Aquarium’s application for a permit under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to import 18 beluga whales from Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk for public display at several facilities in the United States.

The court ruled in favor of Defendant NMFS and Intervenors Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Cetacean Society International (CSI), and Earth Island Institute (EII), finding that NMFS followed the statutory mandate of the MMPA in its previous denial of the aquarium’s permit application.

The court agreed with NMFS’ determination that the Sakhalin-Amur stock is likely declining and is subject to adverse impacts beyond the ongoing Russian live-capture operations. This determination aligns with the primary purpose of the MMPA – to prevent marine mammal species and populations from diminishing beyond the point at which they cease to be a significant functioning element in their ecosystem.

The court also backed NMFS’ interpretation of its regulations, concluding that an import could potentially encourage the capture of additional belugas from this stock for the purpose of public display worldwide.

Finally, the court supported NMFS’ finding that some of the beluga whales proposed for import, estimated to be approximately 1.5 years old at the time of capture, were potentially still nursing and not yet independent of their mothers. The finding, the court ruled, is based on unrebutted scientific literature that beluga whales are not likely fully independent and still rely to some extent on their mother’s milk until 3 years of age.

“We are thrilled with the court’s ruling,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at AWI. “The MMPA was enacted to protect marine mammals from harm and exploitation and that is exactly what it has done in this case. The US will thankfully not be part of the unsustainable and inhumane trade in belugas out of Russia.”

"While we believed the facts of the case would prevail, we are encouraged by the court's decision to uphold not only the original decision to deny the import permit, but reaffirm the integrity of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act and its precautionary principles,” stated Courtney Vail, of WDC. “We praise the court for confirming what we already knew – this permit application failed to meet any of the regulatory burdens and was an unfortunate attempt to falsely promote profit and entertainment at the expense of conservation."

In August 2013, after a rigorous review process during which NMFS received nearly 9,000 public comments, NMFS found that Georgia Aquarium’s permit application did not satisfy the MMPA’s statutory and regulatory criteria.

On September 30, 2013, Georgia Aquarium filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, challenging the agency’s decision under the federal Administrative Procedure Act as contrary to the MMPA and its implementing regulations and as arbitrary and capricious. In January 2014, AWI, along with the other groups sought to intervene in the case in support of NMFS so as to advance the conservation of beluga whales within the already depleted Sakhalin-Amur stock.

On April 18, 2014, the court granted the organizations’ request for permissive intervention, finding that the organizations “were instrumental in informing [NMFS’s] determination to deny the permit.” After summary judgment briefing ended, a merits hearing took place before Judge Amy Totenberg on August 14, 2015.

“Beluga whales simply don't belong in captivity, said Mark J. Palmer, associate director of EII’s International Marine Mammal Project. “Russian beluga populations should not be depleted to supply aquariums aimed to entertain, rather than promote legitimate and ethical animal protections.”

“Although a federal court has upheld the denial of this import, this stock remains at threat from future import requests,” said William Rossiter, director of CSI. “We strongly urge the agency to protect this stock from the threat of future imports by making a final decision on Intervenors’ legal petition to formally designate the stock as depleted.”

About Animal Welfare Institute
The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere – in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. For more information, visit www.awionline.org

About Whale & Dolphin Conservation
Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) is an international charity dedicated to the conservation and welfare of whales, dolphins and porpoises worldwide. Established in 1987 with offices in the United States, United Kingdom, Argentina, Germany, and Australia, WDC works to reduce and ultimately eliminate the continuing threats to cetaceans and their habitats, while striving to raise awareness of these remarkable animals and the need to protect them in their natural environment. For more information on WDC, visit www.whales.org.

About Cetacean Society International
2015 is Cetacean Society International’s 41st year of advocacy to meet our mission: to stop the killing, capture and display of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises); encourage human activities that enhance public awareness and stewardship of cetaceans and our marine environment; and collaborate with stakeholders to reduce anthropogenic threats such as bycatch, invasive research, sonar, ship strikes, pollution, seismic testing, and others as they are revealed.

About Earth Island Institute
Earth Island Institute (EII) is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to protecting the diversity of life on Earth. EII’s International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) works to protect whales, dolphins and other marine mammals around the world. For more information on EII’s IMMP, visit http://immp.eii.org/.

Navy Agrees to Limit Underwater Assaults on Whales and Dolphins

Settlement will protect habitat for vulnerable marine mammal populations in Southern California and Hawai‘i

Posted on 15 September 2015

HONOLULU (From NRDC press release September 11, 2015) – A federal court today entered an order settling two cases challenging the U.S. Navy’s training and testing activities off the coasts of Southern California and Hawai‘i, securing long-sought protections for whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals by limiting Navy activities in vital habitat. The settlement stems from the court’s earlier finding that the Navy’s activities illegally harm more than 60 separate populations of whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions.

For the first time, the Navy has agreed to put important habitat for numerous populations off-limits to dangerous mid-frequency sonar training and testing and the use of powerful explosives. The settlement aims to manage the siting and timing of Navy activities, taking into account areas of vital importance to marine mammals, such as reproductive areas, feeding areas, migratory corridors, and areas in which small, resident populations are concentrated.

Many of the conservation organizations who brought the lawsuits have been sparring legally with the Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service – the agency charged with protecting marine mammals – for more than a decade, demanding that the Navy and Fisheries Service comply with key environmental laws by acknowledging that the Navy’s activities seriously harm marine mammals and taking affirmative steps to lessen that harm.

“We can protect our fleet and safeguard our whales,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, whose lawyers challenged the Navy’s activities in Southern California and Hawai‘i on behalf of NRDC, Cetacean Society International, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Pacific Environment and Resources Center, and Michael Stocker. “This settlement shows the way to do both, ensuring the security of U.S. Navy operations while reducing the mortal hazard to some of the most majestic creatures on Earth. Our Navy will be the better for this, and so will the oceans our sailors defend.”

“If a whale or dolphin can’t hear, it can’t survive,” said David Henkin, an attorney for the national legal organization Earthjustice, who brought the initial challenge to the Navy’s latest round of training and testing on behalf of Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Ocean Mammal Institute. “We challenged the Navy’s plan because it would have unnecessarily harmed whales, dolphins, and endangered marine mammals, with the Navy itself estimating that more than 2,000 animals would be killed or permanently injured. By agreeing to this settlement, the Navy acknowledges that it doesn’t need to train in every square inch of the ocean and that it can take reasonable steps to reduce the deadly toll of its activities.”

Scientific studies have documented the connection between high-intensity mid-frequency sounds, including Navy sonar, and serious impacts to marine mammals ranging from strandings and deaths to cessation of feeding and habitat avoidance and abandonment. Nonetheless, until now the Navy has refused to set aside biologically important areas to minimize such harm to vulnerable marine mammal populations.

Until it expires in late 2018, the agreement will protect habitat for the most vulnerable marine mammal populations, including endangered blue whales for which waters off Southern California are a globally important feeding area; and numerous small, resident whale and dolphin populations off Hawai‘i, for which the islands are literally an oasis, their only home.

“This settlement proves what we’ve been saying all along,” said Marsha Green, president of Ocean Mammal Institute. “The Navy can meet its training and testing needs and, at the same time, provide significant protections to whales and dolphins by limiting the use of sonar and explosives in vital habitat.”

“This agreement will enhance the welfare of dozens of species that call the Pacific Ocean home by extending vital protections to places they need to rest, feed, reproduce and care for their young,” said Susan Millward, executive director at the Animal Welfare Institute.

Southern California

Southern California provides some of the most important foraging areas anywhere on the globe for vulnerable species such as endangered blue and fin whales, and contains important habitat for small populations of beaked whales, a family of species that is considered acutely sensitive to naval active sonar, with documented injury and mortality.

“Numerous beaked whale strandings and deaths have been linked to naval uses of high-intensity sonar,” said Bill Rossiter, executive director for Advocacy, Science & Grants of Cetacean Society International. “Now, beaked whale populations in Southern California that have been suffering from the Navy’s use of sonar will be able to find areas of refuge where sonar will be off-limits.”

Key terms of the settlement applicable to Southern California include:

  • The Navy is prohibited from using mid-frequency active sonar for training and testing activities in important habitat for beaked whales between Santa Catalina Island and San Nicolas Island.
  • The Navy is prohibited from using mid-frequency active sonar for training and testing activities in important habitat for blue whales feeding near San Diego.
  • Navy surface vessels must use “extreme caution” and travel at a safe speed to minimize the risk of ship strikes in blue whale feeding habitat and migratory corridors for blue, fin and, gray whales.

“Ship strikes pose a serious risk to blue whales and other large whales off the coast of California,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “We expect this settlement will help save lives by lowering that risk when Navy vessels reduce their speed in important blue whale habitat and migratory corridors.”


In the vast Pacific Ocean, Hawai‘i represents an oasis for numerous, vulnerable populations of toothed whales, such as spinner dolphins, melon-headed whales, and endangered false killer whales. Studies have shown that they are distinct from other populations in the tropical Pacific and even, in some cases, from populations associated with other islands, with only a few hundred individuals in existence. The Big Island of Hawai‘i and the Maui 4-Island Complex host many of these populations.

“Some of the marine mammals threatened by Navy activities are already on the brink of extinction, such as the Hawaiian monk seal, our state mammal and one of the world’s most endangered species,” said Conservation Council for Hawai‘i’s Marjorie Ziegler. “This settlement helps protect marine habitat the Fisheries Service just last month identified as essential to the seal’s survival.”

Key terms of the settlement applicable to Hawai‘i include:

  • The Navy is prohibited from using mid-frequency active sonar and explosives for training and testing activities on the eastern side of the Island of Hawai‘i and north of Moloka‘i and Maui, protecting Hawaiian monk seals and numerous small resident populations of toothed whales including the endangered insular population of false killer whales and Cuvier’s beaked whales.
  • The Navy is prohibited from exceeding a set number of major training exercises in the channel between Maui and Hawai‘i Island and on the western side of Hawai‘i Island, limiting the number of times local populations will be subjected to the massive use of sonar and explosives associated with major training exercises.
  • Navy surface vessels must use “extreme caution” and travel at a safe speed to minimize the risk of ship strikes in humpback whale habitat.

“This is a huge victory for critically endangered species like Hawai‘i’s insular false killer whale, which is down to only about 150 animals,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity.


Under the Navy’s five-year plan for training and testing, the Navy is permitted to harm whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals nearly 9.6 million times while conducting high-intensity sonar exercises and underwater detonations. These harmful impacts include millions of instances of temporary hearing loss and significant disruptions in vital behaviors, such as habitat abandonment, as well as permanent hearing loss, permanent injury, and more than 150 deaths.

In March, the U.S. District Court, District of Hawai‘i, found that the U.S. Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the law when they failed to meet multiple requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act when authorizing the Navy’s plan.

Ocean noise is one of the biggest threats worldwide to the health and well-being of marine mammals, which rely on sound to ‘see’ their world. Navy sonar activities, shipping noise, and seismic exploration by oil and gas companies have made our oceans noisier in recent decades, resulting in widespread disruption to feeding, communication, mating, and more. Southern California and Hawai‘i represent two of the Navy’s most active ranges for mid-frequency sonar and explosives use.

Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service, et al. was brought by Earthjustice in December 2013 in the District of Hawai‘i, representing Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Ocean Mammal Institute.

Natural Resources Defense Council, et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service, et al. was brought by NRDC in January 2014 in the Northern District of California, representing NRDC, Cetacean Society International, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Pacific Environment and Resources Center, and Michael Stocker, a marine bio-acoustics researcher and director of Ocean Conservation Research.

In March 2014, the NRDC case was transferred to the District of Hawai‘i, which consolidated the two cases. Today’s order settles both cases.

SeaWorld’s Big Surprise for Georgia Aquarium!

Posted on 17 September 2015

By Bill Rossiter

On September 1st SeaWorld threw a big rock in the pool of the other U.S beluga display parks, particularly aimed at Georgia Aquarium. The waves were still growing as our newsletter went to print, because no further statements had been made by SeaWorld, Georgia, Shedd or Mystic Aquariums. Please see CSI’s website for new developments. SeaWorld’s surprise announcement appeared on social media, without the usual media release. Until then the battle by CSI and other organizations to prevent the import of 18 beluga whales captured from the wild in Russia was moving slowly towards two defining moments:

The first defining moment will be decision by the federal district court judge in Atlanta, whether or not to uphold NMFS' permit denial.

This started in June 2012, when Georgia Aquarium submitted an application for a Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) permit to import 18 wild-caught belugas from Russia. All would be owned by Georgia Aquarium, but as breeding loans, four would be distributed to Shedd Aquarium, SeaWorld San Antonio would get six, SeaWorld Orlando would receive two, three would go to SeaWorld San Diego and, after the 18 whales were “fully socialized and integrated into the existing collections (sic)”, a group including one of the Russian imports would be moved to Mystic Aquarium.

That October NMFS held a public hearing, where I represented CSI to testify in opposition to the Application. My formal comment was partly focused on the inadequate planning for the air transport of the belugas, based on my 40 years of experience with commercial aviation and flight operations in U.S. and European airspace.

In August 2013 NMFS denied the aquarium’s permit on the grounds that the aquarium did not meet permitting requirements when it failed to show that the import would not likely contribute to additional removals of beluga whales from the wild and would not adversely affect the species or stock, among other deficiencies.  By September Georgia Aquarium had responded with a legal challenge against NMFS, NOAA, and the U.S. Department of Commerce. The following April CSI, Animal Welfare Institute, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and Earth Island Institute were granted intervenor status in support of NMFS. That required legal counsel, and we found ourselves in the good hands of a remarkable pro bono legal team that was outstanding from the start.

A hearing was held in the federal district court in Atlanta on August 24, 2015, after almost a year of legal actions stemming from that appeal for judicial review. I represented CSI at that Atlanta hearing, along with Dr. Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute, and Courtney Vail for Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The judge had conveyed to the parties a very specific list of questions she wanted answered. She was well prepared at the hearing, and we were superbly represented by counsel. Nothing more can be said until the judge’s decision, which will be announced on CSI’s website.

The second defining moment would be a finding by NMFS that the Sakhalin-Amur population of belugas in Russia’s Okhotsk Sea is "Depleted" under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act. All 18 belugas were captured from this population, two in 2006. In April 2014, CSI, AWI, EII, and WDC filed a Petition for the Depleted listing of this targeted Sakhalin-Amur population because, after decades of quotas for killing and captures and a sudden surge in captures for worldwide public display, they are depleted. If this stock is listed as depleted under the MMPA, it would be illegal to import any belugas originating from this population now or in the future for public display and other purposes. 17 months later, NMFS has made an initial finding that a depleted designation may be warranted, and has further assessed our petition and the status of the population, but NMFS’ decision has not been announced.

And then came SeaWorld’s rock, thrown from http://ask.seaworldcares.com/?p=1152, a social media website set up to struggle against the growing backlash and controversy surrounding SeaWorld since Blackfish:

“Like Georgia Aquarium, SeaWorld is committed to the educational presentation of belugas and to working in partnership with all U.S. beluga holders to conserve this fascinating species. SeaWorld has not collected a whale or dolphin from the wild in decades and last year signed the Virgin Unite pledge indicating that we will not collect cetaceans from the wild. To reaffirm that commitment, SeaWorld has informed the Georgia Aquarium that we will not accept any of the belugas listed on their NOAA Fisheries import permit application. The Marine Mammal Protection Act supports the collection and importation of animals for public display in accredited zoological facilities, and SeaWorld’s decision on this matter does not in any way reflect judgment on those facilities leading or participating in this beluga whale conservation effort. Rather, it reflects an evolution in SeaWorld’s position since this project began more than eight years ago.”

This seems more of a cover-up than an “evolution”, because in the 30-odd years of my memory of SeaWorld's management decisions, they have never done the "right thing" as I define it. SeaWorld is a business motivated to make a profit and minimize losses, and they haven’t managed to do either well because of the “Blackfish Effect”. As Blackfish and subsequent investigations have shown, SeaWorld’s management didn’t even tell their staff enough of the truth to protect them from harm. Why make this withdrawal statement now, when they were a party to this import proposal “more than eight years ago”, perhaps back to the initial capture of two of the 18 belugas in 2006?

Because of timing: If SeaWorld predicted that Georgia Aquarium will lose the lawsuit and/or the Sakhalin-Amur population will be declared Depleted they could be expected to minimize further losses, here by withdrawing from the agreement to take 11 of the 18 imported Russian beluga whales. But that decision needed a feel-good cover, so they cited their signing the Virgin Unite Pledge. In fact, The Virgin Pledge signed by SeaWorld Orland, San Antonio and San Diego says: “Except when necessitated of rehabilitation, rescue, or support for endangered species, this facility pledges to never take receipt of cetacean including whales and dolphins that were taken from the wild after 14th February 2014.” If that’s not clear enough, SeaWorld pays a lot for lawyers who could get around the Virgin Pledge.

The waves following SeaWorld’s rock have inspired rumors fit for a conspiracy movie or two. We look forward to whatever really happens, compared with what the aquariums say happens, so long as no Russian belugas (or orcas) are imported to the U.S.

24 August 2015 Screening of the Film BREACH

Thanks to everyone who participated in the premier Connecticut showing of the film BREACH presented by CSI in cooperation with the New Children’s Museum in West Hartford on 24 August 2015. The film was followed by a live discussion via Skype with Jonny Zwick, the film's Director. For more information see www.breachthefilm.com.

International Save the Vaquita Day

Posted on 12 July 2015

The International Save the Vaquita Day on July 11, 2015 was a big success. See http://www.vivavaquita.org/ for more information.

TEDx Talk Highlights Why SeaWorld Should Retire Shamu

Posted on 27 May 2015

AWI Scientist Dr. Naomi Rose Highlights How Captivity Destroys Orca Family Structure

Japanese Aquariums Vote To Stop Buying Taiji Dolphins

Posted on 26 May 2015

May 26th Update on the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) decision regarding the purchase of dolphins captured from the infamous Taiji dolphin drives.

By Bill Rossiter

On May 20th WAZA was notified, one day before the deadline in their suspension of JAZA, that “JAZA will prohibit its members to acquire wild dolphins caught by drive fishing in Taiji and to take part in their export and sale." A few days earlier JAZA’ 89 zoos and 63 aquarium members had voted not to leave WAZA, many citing uncertainties obtaining animals from other WAZA members worldwide.

The JAZA decision captured worldwide media attention but few outside of Japan followed the developing defections of dolphinariums from JAZA. The Japanese media have emphasized that the drive fishery at Taiji is legal, permitted, important to the town, and not cruel as declared by WAZA in its initial suspension of JAZA. One JAZA official was quoted as saying: “We have yet to receive any convincing explanation from WAZA about why it is cruel“. While there have been recent changes to some of the drives, limiting species and attempting to release some dolphins not chosen for display, there appears to be no concern about the ultimate survival of the released but traumatized animals.

Defections from JAZA were predictable and understandable, supported by Japan’s official and media consensus that WAZA suspension of JAZA was unjustified. By May 25th Kyodo News reported that, from their survey of the 34 JAZA member facilities that display dolphins, 16 will remain in JAZA, five may leave JAZA soon, two others said they will quit JAZA in the future, seven are undecided and four declined to answer. Twenty other dolphinariums are not JAZA members; most buy from Taiji. A May 20th survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun found that, of 33 aquariums displaying a total of 352 dolphins, 18 admitted buying 158 from the drive fishery, 68 were caught by nets, and 42 were captive bred, but no media have included the history of the drives relationship to captive display. Captive breeding hasn’t been a priority in Japan because it’s been easier and cheaper to buy from Taiji. Eight aquariums refused to answer the survey, citing negative publicity.

About 80 fishermen conduct Taiji’s drives and killing. Over several years some have said that the income from sales for display justified the drives. According to Japan’s Fishery Agency 1,239 dolphins were caught in the 2013 Taiji drives. 172 were sold for display at prices starting at US$8,200. The 1067 others were worth about $500 each when slaughtered for meat, tests of which showed the meat exceeded limits for human consumption. Some trained, display-ready Taiji dolphins are reported to have been sold for over $100,000.

CSI’s next Whales Alive! newsletter will include a more in-depth review of the history and implications of WAZA’s actions, JAZA’s response, the Japanese public’s perception of captive display, and the fundamental issue of expanding sales of display dolphins to China and other foreign markets that will make Taiji’s bay blood red again beginning in September.

Adopt a Whale!

For details see the "Whale Adoption" page above.

CSI Founding Partner in World Cetacean Alliance (WCA)

Posted on 13 Aug 2013

CSI is proud to announce that it is a founding partner in the newly formed World Cetacean Alliance (WCA)!  The Alliance, launched on World Oceans Day, consists of 28 partners all pledging to work together to expand our individual organizations influences and reach to help save and protect cetaceans globally.

The WCA has three core deliverables that CSI has been working on for years and will continue too within the alliance:

  1. Map and report on the captivity industry
  2. Map and report on critically endangered cetaceans
  3. Map and report on critical habitats worldwide

Please help CSI in mapping your areas of concerns or global hotspots: In English, in Spanish or in German.  Mapping your concerns will help CSI and the WCA focus on areas with the most critical needs.  A short survey video tutorial can be found on youtube at: YoutTube Survey Video.

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