Belugas to arrive at Mystic Aquarium after legal battle

MYSTIC, Conn. (AP) — Three Beluga whales are almost 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. They were still going through customs around 6 p.m.

The remaining two Belugas are set to arrive at Mystic Aquarium early Saturday from Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

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

Connecticut-based Friends of Animals and other activists sought to block the transport in a lawsuit last fall against the U.S. 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 7 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.

The animals will be trained to voluntarily give blood, saliva, blowhole air and other samples in exchange for rewards.