Beluga documentary criticizes Georgia Aquarium

“If we humans are the kings of nature and able to subdue these animals, why not recognize it?”

So speaks a keeper at a marine park in St. Petersburg, Russia. He addresses a documentary filmmaker, a woman intent on searching out the fate of 18 beluga whales, captured under instructions from the Georgia Aquarium.

Her quest takes filmmaker Gayane Petrosyan and her two colleagues to a fenced-off facility on the Black Sea, where they sneak through the woods to gain entry to the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station.

Their cameras log images of the crowded circular tanks at Utrish where the belugas have been floating in limbo for six years. They also record scenes of a capture operation, in which the one-ton white whales screech as they are dragged out of the water by their tailfins.

The movie is called “Born to Be Wild,” and has been released in England, but not in Russia or the United States. Petrosyan said a U.S. release date has not been chosen, and said the movie may yet undergo some changes.

Members of the Georgia Aquarium have not yet seen the film, but they deny that the capture operation is traumatic, and stress the value of the aquarium’s research and conservation efforts with belugas.

The Georgia Aquarium arranged to have the whales captured, with hopes of importing them to several facilities in North America. But the aquarium’s permit application was denied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. During the ensuing the legal battle the animals’ fate remained in limbo. Finally, this summer, the aquarium announced it would no longer put wild-captured dolphins or belugas on display, and that is was seeking a permanent home for the belugas. Seven out of the surviving 15 have been moved to a water park in Japan.

Petrosyan hopes her film has the same effect on the trade in the endangered belugas that the 2013 film “Blackfish” had on the world of performing killer whales. (After “Blackfish” came out SeaWorld announced it would end its performing killer whale program.)

ExploreTo read more about “Born to Be Free,” go to myAJC.com

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