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July 12, 2002
By:Paul Kelbie

The Russian government is offering hunters the chance to capture and sell killer whales into captivity for $1m (660,000) a head. It has granted permission for 10 orcas to be sold, possibly to Japan's new Port Nagoya Public Aquarium, Canada or the United States.

For the residents of the traditional fishing communities along Russia's sparsely populated coastline bordering the Sea of Okhotsk the prospect of a multimillion-dollar harvest in live orcas is welcome.

But the British-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) fears the licences will drive the species to the brink of extinction. "We are very alarmed orcas may soon be targeted in Russian waters and the area will become a long-term regular source of the animals for the captivity industry with disastrous consequences," Cathy Williamson, captivity campaigner for the WDCS, said.

Demand for the creatures in aquariums and theme parks has heavily reduced many populations of orca whales around the world. There are 48 orcas in captivity, including 25 born in captivity, which are used to entertain visitors in marine parks in Japan, the US, Canada, France and Argentina.

No orcas have been captured since 1997 and with the life expectancy of the mammals considerably reduced in captivity replacements are needed. The WDCS said that of the 134 killer whales captured in the wild since 1961 and displayed in marine parks and aquariums, only 24 were still alive. Many died before their early twenties. In the wild, they could expect to live 80 years or more. One is being "retrained" off Iceland in an effort to return it to the sea.

The WDCS says the captivity industry has been forced to trawl the world, hunting killer whale populations. The group is encouraging people to write letters of protest to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

A letter signed by more than 25 international orca scientists has already been presented to Russian authorities, asking them to stop the captures and warning of the possible consequences of taking individuals from populations about which very little is known.

"The orca population off eastern Russia has been unexploited since Soviet whalers took 300 some decades ago," Rich Hoyt, co-director of the Far East Russia Orca Project, said. "They have never been studied here. This is no time to start capturing them, disrupting the families and the social structure. This is bad news for Russian orcas, for marine conservation and for marine tourism to Russia." Orcas are intensely social and live in small, tightly bonded family groups, or pods, that stay together for life. Ms Williamson, of the WDCS, said: "We believe of all the whales and dolphins captured and put into captivity, orcas are probably the most unsuited because they are such large animals and belong to strong family groups.

"Each individual is important to a pod as a whole and to every other individual within that group. They are intensely social animals, yet in captivity family ties are ignored.

"Calves are routinely separated from their mothers at a tender age and blood-bonds are replaced with forced associations with orcas from different pods and oceans, which can lead to aggression or self-harm."

These predatory animals, which travel up to 100 miles a day in the wild, exist in pools that can be just 14.6 metres (48ft) across and 3.7 metres (12ft) deep.

"Any animals targeted are likely to suffer from stress and potential harm, both psychologically and physically, through capture and log distance transportation to a display location," Ms Williamson added. "Russia already captures Black Sea bottle-nosed dolphins and beluga whales for the captivity industry, which are exported all over the world and this extra step would be a great bonus for some people there. But, in the long run, it could be a very sad loss for the world."

- How You Can Help -

February 19, 2002
Source: WDCS

WDCS has been very concerned to learn that the Russian government has issued permits for the capture of 10 orcas off East Russia. We need your help to stop this from happening.

In recent years, Japanese aquariums, particularly the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium (PNPA) in Nagoya, have taken an interest in displaying orcas in captivity. The PNPA opened as planned in November 2001, as Japan's largest captive cetacean facility. We are pleased to announce that there were no orcas on display at the aquarium at the opening and have since learned that more than 9,000 protest letters and faxes against the capture and display of orcas at PNPA have been received.

Many thanks to all our supporters who wrote letters about this! Nevertheless, PNPA has announced that it will continue to try to obtain orcas from Russian waters for display. With your help, we may be able to persuade the Nagoya Aquarium to give up its idea of displaying orcas altogether, and, thus, protect Russian orcas from at least one threat.

Please write to the Nagoya Aquarium, sending a copy of your letter to the Mayor of Nagoya City, and ask them to reconsider their plans to display orcas at their facility.

Director of Nagoya Port Aquarium
Itaru Uchida
1-3 Minatomachi Minato-ku,
Nagoya city
Aichi prefecture
455-0033 Japan
Fax: + 81 52 654 7001

Mayor of Nagoya City
Takehisa Matsubara
460-0001, 3-1-1 Sannomaru,
Nagoya City
Aichi Prefecture
Fax: + 81 52 972 4105

Please send any received correspondence to:
Cathy Williamson
Brookfield House
38 St Paul's Street
Chippenham, Wiltshire. SN15 1LY

Thank you for taking the time to help save Russia's orcas.

Best wishes to you all
Victoria Reinthal