A U.S. judge has blocked the import of 18 captured beluga whales from Russia by an aquarium in the U.S. state of Georgia.
The whales were captured in 2006 off the coast of northern Russia in the Sea of Okhotsk and currently live at the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station in Russia. The September 28 court ruling prevents them from being brought to any facility in the United States, including either the Georgia Aquarium or SeaWorld.
Conservationists and the U.S. government, which opposed the import of the endangered whales, applauded the decision. The Georgia Aquarium is reviewing whether to appeal the decision.
The aquarium sued the government in September 2013 for the right to acquire the whales, arguing that importing the whales would help promote education and conservation of the animals.
The U.S. government contended that the trade of live whales depleted their population.
Belugas, or white whales, normally live in Arctic or sub-Arctic waters, and are classified as endangered in some areas and as "near threatened" worldwide.