This video from November 2018 shows a holding facility near the small Russian town of Nakhodka, where government officials are investigating the capturing and exporting of wild beluga whales and orcas.
This is footage of the same facility taken in January 2019.
The companies holding the animals captive claim that they will be sent to aquariums for educational purposes. But animals rights activists say they were captured illegally and suspect that they will be sent to amusement parks in China. Government prosecutors have halted all exports from the facility until further notice.
On January 18th and 19th, Russian border guards brought in a team of scientists to gather footage of the facility and to assess the health of the marine mammals.
Analysis by Jeff Foster, a biologist who reviewed the photos, suggests that the 11 orcas and 87 belugas at the facility are now in declining health.
Ice must be shoveled out of the belugas’ enclosures to keep the water from freezing over.
If the water freezes, the juvenile belugas won’t be able to breathe at the surface and will eventually drown.
According to Foster, some of the orcas appear to have developed a skin condition often associated with exposure to excessive cold.
A lawyer for one of the companies holding the animals insisted that they were caught legally with required government permits and would only be release on court orders. Environmentalists have now filed a lawsuit with the goal of returning the orcas and belugas back into the wild.
As the investigation continues and severe cold persists, activists fear it will be too late for the animals if they’re not released immediately. But for now, they remain frozen in legal limbo.