Film prompts US aquarium to end import of belugas from wild

BornToBeFree Trailer 3'05 from Dasha Domukhovskaya on Vimeo.

Last week, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta announced that they would no longer seek to import dolphins or whales caught from the wild for display in their facility.

At the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), we welcome and commend the Georgia Aquarium on this announcement, which came in conjunction with the London premiere of a documentary made in association with IFAW about the capture of wild belugas.

Born to be Free follows the saga of 18 beluga whales captured from the wild in Russian waters and targeted for export to the Georgia Aquarium.

This has been a long saga.

Three years ago, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) denied a permit to the aquarium to import the whales, some of which were to become permanent residents there. The whales have been in limbo and secretly detained ever since.

Then, as recently as last fall, a federal judge upheld NOAA’s decision (IFAW was one of the participants in the amicus, or "friend of the court," brief filed for this case.)

This movie, much like Blackfish before it, should make huge waves and further the debate on the topic of cetaceans in captivity. IFAW supported the film and cooperated with the filmmakers so that they could free dive and film belugas around the Solovetsky Islands, where IFAW has long supported research on wild belugas.

I am featured in the film advocating for the long-held IFAW principle that animals in the wild should remain in the wild.

It is time now to advocate for other institutions to follow the Georgia Aquarium’s lead and stop this practice of purchasing wild animals for display, and work with the Russian government to extend its current moratorium on the capture of marine mammals.

As IFAW Honorary Board Member Dr. Jane Goodall, said in a recent talk with IFAW CEO Azzedine Downes.

“We are learning more and more about animals, their familial and community relationships and their inner lives. And as we learn more about the intelligence and emotional lives of the other animals with whom we share the world, it becomes more difficult to justify keeping them in captivity. Through the Internet, books, photos, film and TV, more and more people can “experience” up-close views of wildlife without the animals ever leaving their free and natural habitat. And for some animals like dolphins and whales it is the only ethical way.” 


Learn more about our work with whales by visiting our campaign page.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
Deputy Vice President of Conservation
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime