Guernsey’s Offers Chance to Name Three Beluga Whales, Benefits Mystic Aquarium

Liz Catalano
Published on

Halfway through 2021, a years-long project reached its dramatic conclusion. Connecticut’s Mystic Aquarium successfully acquired five beluga whales from Marineland of Canada and flew them across national borders in a cargo plane. The widely-publicized transfer supports the Aquarium’s non-invasive research efforts. This August, bidders have the opportunity to name three of the belugas and help the Aquarium fund the multi-million dollar transfer. A charity auction facilitated by Guernsey’s will begin on August 19th, 2021 at 1:00 PM EDT. Tickets to attend the live auction start at USD 150 per person. Interested bidders can also participate online through LiveAuctioneers.

“The importance of protecting endangered beluga whales cannot be overstated. It is an honor to be assisting the Mystic Aquarium and its noble goal of helping these wonderful animals,” Guernsey’s President Arlan Ettinger said in a press release. “Bidding to name a whale must be a first in auction history.”

Some of the beluga whales at the Mystic Aquarium. Image courtesy of Guernsey’s/ the Mystic Aquarium.
Some of the beluga whales at the Mystic Aquarium. Image courtesy of Guernsey’s/ the Mystic Aquarium.

Renaming whales after a transfer is a common move in the marine science world, states the Mystic Aquarium. The new names will not affect the whales’ well-being or training, as they interact with staff and trainers through physical motions. Bids for the naming rights start at $120,000 each. Guernsey’s expects the bidding could reach $1,000,000 per whale. Winners will also receive a 21-inch tall bronze sculpture of a beluga created by wildlife artist Dan Ostermiller. Those interested in naming a beluga whale have a lower-cost option as well. The Mystic Aquarium will offer a ticket raffle for the naming rights of a fourth whale. Chances are $10 each, and the winner will be chosen on December 31st, 2021. 

This auction comes after a string of challenges in securing the whales. The Mystic Aquarium’s five new juvenile belugas— Kharabali, Havana, Jetta, Havok, and Sahara— started life in captivity at Marineland of Canada. The Niagara Falls zoo and amusement park cares for thousands of animals, including cetaceans. Opened in 1961, Marineland has faced extensive criticism in recent decades due to its treatment of marine mammals. It housed over 50 beluga whales before the transfer, creating overcrowded conditions that potentially harmed the animals’ health. 

Transferring the whales from Marineland to the Mystic Aquarium proved to be a treacherous endeavor. It began as a logistical challenge caused by their enormous size and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Legal challenges and protests also complicated matters. Canada banned the breeding and captivity of cetaceans in 2019, a hard-won victory for animal rights advocates. Many objected to this recent transfer and pointed to the United States’ comparatively lax animal welfare laws. The Aquarium could potentially start a breeding program with the new whales and contribute to the high rate of beluga captivity.

A beluga whale mid-transfer from Marineland to Mystic Aquarium. Image courtesy of AP Photo/ Jessica Hill.
A beluga whale mid-transfer from Marineland to Mystic Aquarium. Image courtesy of AP Photo/ Jessica Hill.

Despite the criticisms, the Mystic Aquarium received permits for the transfer from both Canadian and American government agencies. The permits specifically restrict breeding for several years, forbid training the whales for performances, and prevent direct interactions with visitors. The Aquarium maintains that the transfer will better the health of the individual beluga whales and support vital research preventing their extinction in the wild.

The planned benefit auction comes on the heels of fresh tragedy. Earlier this August, only a few months after the transfer, one of the beluga whales died of a preexisting gastrointestinal condition. The Aquarium stated that the whale’s health had previously been improving with intensive care from staff. At this time, it is unclear whether the cause of death was previous neglect, stress from the transfer, or natural causes. 

The Aquarium reports that the other transferred beluga whales remain in good health and are adapting to their new habitat. The whales join three older belugas in the tanks. They will now begin participating in preliminary research studies. These include monitoring the belugas’ health to set reference values and evaluating their responses to human-caused changes in their environment. 

The upcoming Guernsey’s auction to support the beluga whales includes several additional lots beyond the naming rights. Several experiences are particularly notable. Bidders can consider a five-event VIP ticket package for Madison Square Garden, tickets to the Masters Tournament in 2022, and an on-field opportunity at the Super Bowl LVI. A selection of restored sailboats and a Porsche replica Speedster are also on offer.

One of the Mystic Aquarium’s beluga whales. Image courtesy of the Mystic Aquarium.
One of the Mystic Aquarium’s beluga whales. Image courtesy of the Mystic Aquarium.

“Studying the belugas by our outstanding research team is an important undertaking to preserve these animal populations in the wild,” said Steve Coan, president and CEO of the Mystic Aquarium, before the auction. “The belugas at our habitat are helping their wild counterparts that continue to dwindle as a result of rapid changes to the environment. However, the research and maintaining their habitat is also expensive, and we thank those who are stepping up to financially support this important endeavor.”

The upcoming benefit auction to support the Mystic Aquarium’s beluga whales starts at 7:00 PM EDT on August 19th, 2021. Visit Guernsey’s for more information, and find the full catalog on LiveAuctioneers

Interested in more industry news? Auction Daily recently explored the history of Hank Aaron’s 3,000th hit game-worn jersey, available with Heritage Auctions. 

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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