5 min read

Beluga 'Victory' Didn't Have A Happy Ending

<p> Baikal Cinema </p>

You may remember hearing about 18 wild-caught Beluga whales that the Georgia Aquarium hoped to import into the US. Thankfully, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) denied the permit.

Animal activists considered it a massive victory.

Yes, it's a victory, but not a massive one. And certainly not for those 18 Belugas who are languishing in small tanks at the Utrishskaya Marine Station in Russia, and not for the wild Belugas swimming in the Gulf of Sakhalin in the Sea of Okhotsk. Just last year the Federal Fisheries Agency in Russia granted a quota for the live-capture of 260 Belugas.

Still image from the upcoming Russian documentary "Born Free." (Courtesy of Gayane Petrosyan)

So if they can't come to the U.S., where will they go?

According to the White Whale Programme the biggest customers of wild-caught Belugas are China, Thailand, Vietnam and Arab countries. And what will be Europe's biggest aquarium is under construction in Russia at this very moment.

What Russia needs is it's very own "Blackfish." That documentary by Gabriela Cowperthwaite changed the conversation about captivity in the US and contributed to a decline in Sea World attendance of 500,000 people from third quarter 2013 to third quarter 2014. Revenue also declined over $42 million during that same period.

Luckily, a Russian documentary on this topic called "Born Free" is under way.

I asked the movie's director and producer, Gayane Petrosyan, what she hoped to accomplish with this movie.

For us it will be a great victory if the film will cause a wave of public debate in Russia, which in turn will help change state laws to protect the rights of animals. But the most important thing is to reach the hearts of people in Russia, to help them realize that freedom is a right, not a gift, and we have no right to deprive other creatures of freedom just to entertain ourselves. We shouldn't take our children to dolphinariums if we want them to grow into kind and humane individuals. This is our goal: to change the minds of people in Russia with regards to keeping marine mammals in captivity.

The main thing that the average Russian can do, to help put an end to the wild capture of Belugas, is to not buy tickets for shows at dolphinariums; do not support this cruelty financially. Unfortunately, social movements in defense of animals are not supported by society in Russia as a whole, like, say, in the UK. But there is another problem: as long as the foreign oceanariums - SeaWorld, some ocean parks in China and many others - buy the captured Belugas from Russia, captures will continue. Because it is money, lots of money. And in Russia the Beluga is not considered endangered. Therefore, the problem should be solved from both sides and we are happy that the film has such strong international support.

Welcome, whale and dolphin lovers of Russia, to the fight to end captivity.

The producers of "Born Free" have started an IndieGogo campaign to raise money for post-production costs and to build a professional website for the movie.