MOSCOW, Russia, Feb. 24, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The cruel trade in Russian beluga whales (the white whale), captured in the wild for sale to aquaria and travelling shows, has been condemned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) as shocking new footage reveals the true depth of the animals' suffering for human entertainment.
The hard-hitting documentary, Born to be Free, follows 18 beluga whales captured from the wild in Russia in 2013 for display at the Georgia Aquarium in the US, who are stuck in tiny holding tanks for years while their ultimate fate is decided. Public outrage led to an import ban, which started long judicial proceedings and left the belugas in limbo. At least one of the whales featured died and the surviving whales were finally sold and transported to aquariums in China.
The film, showcasing the first investigation of its kind in Russia, shines a light on the secret and often murky international trade in marine mammals. Examining all aspects of the supply chain, it gives a revealing and distressing insight into the reality of a life in captivity for the animal victims.
Masha Vorontsova, IFAW Russia Director, said: "Beluga whales are highly intelligent animals with a very complex and social family structure. IFAW believes that belugas and all whale species are not suited to a life in captivity and belong in the wild."
"Sadly little thought is given to welfare in this trade driven by profit. A captured beluga, once it has been trained to eat dead fish instead of hunting live prey in the wild, can fetch up to US $1million. When I heard that three daring young Russian women wanted to document this issue I was very pleased that IFAW could help them tell the story and bring it to public attention. Anyone who doubts the suffering of these animals need only watch this film."
"IFAW urges the Russian government to ban all future wild capture of belugas and other cetaceans. We also ask members of the public not to support shows involving belugas or whales, which fuel this lucrative and unacceptably cruel trade."
IFAW has worked for more than 20 years to protect Russia's beluga whales from commercial exploitation for the whale meat trade, aquaria and harmful tourism activities. Since 1995, IFAW and researchers from the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology have operated a non-invasive research station monitoring belugas off the coast of the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea and assessing threats to the species. In 1999, IFAW successfully campaigned for a ban on the commercial hunting of Russian belugas to supply whale meat to Japan.
The film, directed by Gayane Petrosyan, will premier in Russia on February 24 at the ECOCUP Green Documentary Film Festival. It is being distributed by Reflexion Films and Dogwoof International and will be available on Netflix starting March 21. Watch the Born to Be Free movie trailer on YouTube.
About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on social @action4ifaw and Facebook/IFAW.
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SOURCE International Fund for Animal Welfare