In Russia 12 Killer Whales and 90 Beluga have been captured from the wild over the summer.
Due to the demand from Marine Parks around the world, the price of a single untrained Killer Whale is over a million dollar.

killer whale russia
Photo taken by the russian nonprofit Ocean Friends on an Expedition to monitor the capture

In the past, U.S. facilities have also obtained cetaceans from Russia. In 2015 a request by Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld, was denied by federal officials. Sadly, marine parks, dolphinariums and swim-with-dolphins programs are becoming increasingly popular in China, which means there’s a growing demand for animals to fill their tanks. Russia is supplying the demand for Orcas and Belugas while the infamous Taiji dolphin hunters of Japan are supplying Dolphins.

Educational Purposes

It is illegal to capture whales for commercial purposes, but there is a very simple loophole to the law. Companies applying for a permit to capture claim that they want to exhibit the whales for educational and cultural purposes.

moskvarium killer whales
MOSCOW, RUSSIA. AUGUST 4, 2015. A killer whale performance as part of the opening of the new Moskvarium Oceanography and Marine Biology Center at Moscow’s VDNKh Exhibition Center. Mikhail Metzel/TASS

As such, it is also illegal to sell the animals, but then again, a loophole was easy to find. Russians are no longer selling the orca and beluga they captured, instead they are leasing them for a pretty penny.

This lead in June 2018 to the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office opening criminal investigation and prosecution of companies involved in the illegal sale of seven killer whales to China.

«It was established that in 2012-2015 four commercial organizations provided false information to the Russian Federal Fisheries Agency about their intention to use orcas in cultural and educational activities. On this basis, they were given permission to capture more than 10 individuals,» the supervisory agency said in a statement.

The inspection have been taken under special control, but results have not been published. General Prosecutor’s Office said that «it would be premature to disclose information about individuals involved in the illegal capture and export of marine mammals» until the end of official inspection.

Who is behind it ?

The killer whales and beluga whales are hunted in the Sea of ​​Okhotsk and the Amur estuary, between Sakhalin and the mainland. The animals, arriving at the place of holding, must undergo a 30-day quarantine and inspection by veterinary services.

russian orcas holding facilities
Russian orca and beluga holding facility – © Russian Orcas

Vladivosk News applied to the State Veterinary Inspectorate of the Primorsky Territory with a request to inform whether they know about the presence of animals, as well as when they were caught and delivered to the territory of the region, how many animals and in what conditions they are kept. The answer is very disturbing.

In the bay of the Middle Nakhodka urban district as of 10.29.2018, 90 beluga whales and 11 killer whale heads are located in aviaries.
– 23 beluga heads and 3 killer whales belonging to Afalina LLC (Афалина)
– 22 beluga heads, 3 killer whales belonging to  Oceanarium DV LLC (Океанариум ДВ)
– 23 beluga heads, 3 orcas belonging to White Whale LLC (Белый кит) 
– 22 beluga heads, 3 killer whales belonging to Sochi Dolphinarium LLC (Сочинский дельфинарий) 

Those four companies are likely to be the ones which are under criminal investigation by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office.

This year, for the first time in the Russian history, a small team of caring and brave  volunteers from Marine Mammals Rescue Team “Ocean Friends” was conducting public monitoring of orcas capture. 

Things not adding up

1. The Beluga Quota

According to the approved quotas, 195 belugas are intended for the indigenous communities of the North of Russia who feed on them. Quotas for indigenous people cannot be sold or leased to another person. Only 5 belugas remaining in the 200 quota can be caught for “education or cultural purposes”. However for some reason, 90 have arrived to the holding facilities between July 16th and October 21st of this year.

2. The Killer Whale Quota

In 2017 Wuxi Changqiao Ocean Kingdom, while scheduled to open in 2019 has purchased two killer whales from Russia.

The mammals arrived incognito — thanks to the companies «White Whale» and «Afalina LLC», who “forgot” to fill in the type of mammals in the export declarations.
Instead, these declarations from 2017 indicated a very general name — the mammals of the order Cetacea (cetaceans). However, the Chinese side did not keep it as a secret: Wuxi Changqiao Ocean Kingdom declared that cetaceans which came from Russia were precisely killer whales.

The reasons for secrecy of the orca capture operators couldn’t be more obvious — in 2016 and 2017 Russian officials did not issue permits for capture of killer whales.

3. The Prices

The website of the Chinese Oceanarium Linyi Polar Ocean World, for example, says that four killer whales from Russia cost more than 200 million yuan – $ 28.7 million. That would be over $7 million per killer whale.

However according to the database of customs declarations the export of killer whales from Russia to China in 2013-2017 amounted to 15 individuals. The killer whales sold on average at a price of about a million dollars per individual.

Linyi Polar Ocean World
Model of Linyi Polar Ocean World

A possible explanation is that the Chinese Marine Park took into account all the associated cost of the purchase, such as transportation, though we doubt that it would multiply the cost by 7. So where is the money going ?

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