SeaWorld's efforts to bring in new whales causes controversy

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —

Now, a new effort to bring in more beluga whales is creating controversy, especially with groups like the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida.

"We were shocked SeaWorld would even consider importing wild caught animals into the U.S.," said Bryan Wilson of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida.

The application for a permit to bring in 18 beluga whales from off the coast of Russia was actually filed by the Georgia Aquarium. But the proposal calls for 11 of the 18 to go to SeaWorld parks under a breeding loan program.

Two of the whales would be brought to Orlando.

The request has created controversy because the belugas in question are uninjured animals that were captured in the wild and would be brought to live in captivity.

"It's been almost two decades since any wild caught animals have been permitted to be brought into the U.S., and really the fact these animals are in captivity at all is inexcusable," said Wilson.

On Thursday SeaWorld responded.

"These belugas, like every animal living in an accredited zoo or aquarium, will serve a valuable educational purpose," said SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs.

Jacobs said 12 million SeaWorld visitors would see the whales each year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service will decide whether to grant the permit.

The agency consider whether taking the whales would this hurt the population in the wild, and would the transport of the whales to parks like SeaWorld be humane.

Normally NOAA has a 30-day public comment period to gather information before making a decision, but because the issue of the beluga whales has caused so much public outcry, it's doubling the time to 60 days for public comment.

A spokesperson from NOAA said the decision would be based on scientific evidence.