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ATLANTA  — The Georgia Aquarium says a government agency’s denial of its permit to import beluga whales was arbitrary and capricious, but the government argues the aquarium failed to meet the law’s requirements.

Lawyers for the two sides faced off in federal court in Atlanta on Friday. They have asked the judge to make a decision on the merits of the case, based on court filings and oral arguments, without holding a trial.

The aquarium says the 18 beluga whales from Russia are needed to strengthen the gene pool of whales in captivity in the U.S. and for research and education.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, known as NOAA Fisheries, argues the permit application failed to meet some requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.