In a move that's been years in the making, five beluga whales are now calling New England home.
The animals just completed their journey from Canada to their final destination, the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. The process was a massive undertaking requiring two separate flights, a police escort and almost 24 hours to complete.
The whales' move has also garnered national attention and even required the involvement of two federal governments.
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Steve Coan, the aquarium's president and CEO, says throughout the process, the aquarium has listened to feedback from thousands of people both for and against the move.
The relocation of the whales became the focus of a lawsuit spearheaded by animal rights activists arguing that this was not in the whales' best interest.
However, in the end, a judge declined to issue an injunction.
"This is an expensive undertaking and a mission-driven undertaking, not a profit-driven undertaking," Coan said. "They were born under human care and it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to be released from the wild."
The aquarium says the whales, ranging from 7-12 years old, are now at the center of important research.
Dr. Allison Tuttle is the senior vice president of zoological operations at the aquarium. She says the research began as soon as they arrived in Canada and continued throughout the course of their journey to Connecticut.
"These whales here will have a great home, will have a wonderful life, and will also be amazing ambassadors that will voluntarily provide research samples that will help conserve their wild counterparts," she said.
Coan says the data these whales can provide is invaluable.
"Whales of all species are dying rapidly. Most are either threatened or endangered," he said. "We've got to turn that situation around, so advancing the knowledge to do so has become more and more urgent."
The whales are joining three other belugas who already call the aquarium home. While the public can now go see them, the whales will not be participating in any kind of shows at the aquarium.