Broken Eyes, broken Souls: Brutal Russian Whale Hunt Exposed: Is This the Next ‘Cove?’

Brutal Russian Whale Hunt Exposed: Is This the Next ‘Cove?’

Demand by aquariums in China and elsewhere is driving the capture of beluga whales.

February 27, 2015

Emily Gertz is TakePart’s associate editor for environment and wildlife.

In a trailer for the Russian documentary film Born Free, the camera follows beluga whales as they flex, turn, and glide through the dim green undersea light with a grace surprising for such stout creatures.

With their bulbous heads, stumpy snouts, and pokey front fins stuck onto long, thick bodies, belugas could be alien creatures in a 1950s science fiction story.  Still, most viewers probably won’t need the score’s heart-tugging plink of piano notes to get that these ethereal white whales are perfectly formed for life in the world’s ocean.

But the music’s abrupt slide into a muddy, pulsing mix of drums and cellos underscores the brutality of the scenes that follow. In one, around a dozen belugas are crowded into narrow water pens bound with rusty wire, diving and rising anxiously while tourists look on. In another, plaid-shirted men wrestle with netted wild belugas in the shallows of a rocky beach, dragging some of them by ropes wrapped around their tails. Captured whales lie passively on the beach, out of their natural element and seemingly in shock.

Welcome to the Russian “Cove.”

Wild-caught beluga whales in a holding facility at Srednyaya Cove, about 100 miles outside Vladivostok. (Photo: Courtesy Gayane Petrosyan and Maxim Lanovoy)





Gayane Petrosyan has spent nearly two years documenting the hunt for wild beluga whales in Russia, as well as their conditions in captivity. Now the Russian journalist and filmmaker hopes to expose the beluga hunt to her nation and the world, much as the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary The Cove drew the global attention to the annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. ….


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