Original source in Russian: https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/09/14/77814-orfey-2005-g-r-1-sht-gratsiya-2009-g-r-1-sht
Who is cashing in on export of marine mammals to China and why neither volunteers nor officials can stop the capture of these animals in Russia, while the rest of the world prohibit the capture of orcas and belugas.
The first orcas that were captured in the sea of Okhotsk to be sold to oceanariums had names — Orpheus, Narnia, Gracia, and Nord. The names were given by people who had defined the rules of a new forced life: instead of the sea- closed space of a container or an aquarium, and sometimes just a rusty tank. Orcas Orpheus, Narnia, Gracia, and Nord were captured in August 2012 in Sakhalin Gulf and in the Reineke Bay of the Sea of Okhotsk. They were brought to the base of OOO «WHITE WHALE» in Livadia village ( the Srednyaya bay, Nakhodka) — «for adaptation». At first orcas were placed in the pool with running sea water, later — in the floating sea enclosure. Then they started teaching orcas to eat dead fish. The specialists, who worked with Narnia noticed that forced feeding didn’t work, she rejected any fish. Finally Narnia started eating by the end of the third week in captivity. But when the other orcas were placed in the pool, Narnia started behave differently, – she began to offer fish to Orpheus and Nord, trying to persuade them to eat.
Orcas have well developed social behavior- Dmitry Glazov, deputy of the program «Beluga- White whale» of University of ecology and evolution problems of Russian academy of science A.N. Severtsov, told to «Novaya Gazeta”. They have some special matriarch. As long as the female orca is alive, all her kids and their calves stay together. They form groups that way, where they communicate and socialize, and young males join to the group. It is the whole world.
Scientists have an opinion that orcas have special type of behavior and lifestyle. When it is broken — something breaks in their minds to. It is a psychological trauma.
By the end of the tenth day in the enclosure orcas started to eat everything together, but gave a part of fish to Narnia. Worst of all was the situation with tiny orca Gracia (only 600 kg vs 1800 kg), she desperately refused to eat. Employees tried to feed her through a gastric tube. After the illnesses in enclosure Gracia finally started to eat. By that time the time in the “WHITE WHALE” base had come to an end and orcas were forever separated.
Narnia and Nord were placed in Moscow oceanarium «Moskvarium». But not right away. First they had been enclosed in rusty tanks in one of the pavilions of VDNKh. Visitors drew attention to strange cries from the pavilion “Electrification”. It turned out that this temporary holding facility was organized by catcher and owner of orcas –OOO «Sochinsky Delphinary». Orcas had been waiting for the opening of «Moskvarium » in tanks, where they were supposed to become «performers». In August park was opened and orcas, that had been kept in the tanks, showed tricks at the opening ceremony for the head of the Moscow city and the President of Russia Federation.
Orpheus and Gracia went through the same way from freedom to captivity. But it took more time. In December 2013 orcas were sold to one of Chinese oceanariums.
Orcas in the service of science
Commercial capture of orcas has been prohibited since 1982 by moratorium of the International Whaling Commission. But in fact the state government issued quota for capture from 6 to 8 animals every year. Most of the animals are being sold to oceanariums in China. How is it possible?
Because the capture is only allowed in «educational and scientific-educational purposes» — and that wording did the trick. Until recently the representatives of Rosrybolovstvo insisted that sending animals to zoos, circuses and oceanariums is quite a science and education, and not commercial.
But this year the situation was clearly not ordinary. First the Ministry of Agriculture made a decision to stop the capture of orcas. But that didn’t help — the Pacific Fisheries Institute (TINRO), which determines the capture size in Russian Far East, refused and turned it down.
Scientists from TINRO insisted on unprecedented quota – 13 animals in 2018 and the same amount in 2019. The explanation was that orcas hinder fishermen and eat fish.
Only at the public hearing to discuss total allowable catch it was revealed, that exact populations number of orcas is unknown, and quotas were based on » old archived records».
It would seem that that should have been enough to not issue quotas, since in 2016-17 quotas were not issued for the same reason — lack of data on population size. But not this time.
Furthermore, in July of 2018 the General Prosecutor’s Office made a statement about criminal prosecution of individuals for selling seven orcas illegally.
From 2012 to 2015 the executives of four commercial organization provided to Rosrybolovstvo false information about the intention to capture orcas for scientific-educational purposes, the department reported, in fact, the lawbreakers, which had permission for capture, intended to sell animals abroad.
General Prosecutor’s Office estimated the amount of damage for 270 millions rubles. The inspection have been taken under special control, but results have not been published. General Prosecutor’s Office told «Novaya Gazeta», that «it would be premature to disclose information a
bout individuals involved in the illegal capture and export of marine mammals» until the end of official inspection.
The ecologists have another point of view, for example, «Greenpeace» advocates for adding transient orcas to the Red Book (Endangered species list). The ecologists note that capture for oceanariums put this animals in danger of extinction.
Petition on Change.org collected 68,000 signatures in support of the ban on capture and keeping of orcas in captivity, and another 22,000 to stop issuing quotas for capturing of orcas and beluga whales.
One million dollar whale
Between 2013 and 2016, 13 killer whales were exported from Russia to China, the total cost of which estimated at around 700 million rubles.
Year after year the price for orcas varied from 17 to 85 million rubles per animal, but after the collapse of the Russian ruble in 2014 the price didn’t drop lower than 67 million.
Two whales were sent to China first — the exporter was “Sochi Dolphinarium LLC”. According to the transaction’s description, there was no doubt that they were orcas. «The killer whale (Latin Orcinus orca) is a toothed whale belonging to oceanic, infraorder cetacea”, — written in declarations. Both documents are dated December 7, 2013.
It was the first and the last time when the supplier indicated the names of whales in the documents: male, born in 2005, nicknamed Orpheus — 1 piece, female, born in 2009, nickname Gracia — 1 piece. We have already mentioned them earlier.
After 2013 three more organizations entered the market for capture and trade of orcas to China. Companies “Afalina LLC” and “Oceanarium DV LLC” (“Oceanarium of Far East”) registered in Khabarovsk each sold to China three orca in total. First company earned 212 million rubles, second — 237 million rubles. Another two orcas worth of 72 million rubles were sent to China by the company «Beliy Kit» (“White Whale”), registered in Nakhodka. The record holder in supplying killer whales to the oceanariums in China appears to be “Sochi Dolphinarium LLC”, which declared 5 killer whales (over 160 million rubles).
It seems like these companies were cooperating with each other. For example, in 2014 “White Whale, LLC” and «Sochi Dolphinarium» filed declarations on captured orcas on the same day, 10th of August. Four months later, on December 18, 2014, two more companies, “Oceanarium DV LLC” and “Afalina LLC”, did the same. In 2016, the «Sochi Dolphinarium» and «Afalina» filed another declaration on the same day, August 25. There is another coincidence — four companies had identical phone numbers in the declarations. For example, «Sochi Dolphinarium» indicated the number of «Afalina» and «White Whale», and representatives of “Beliy Kit» had phone numbers of «Oceanarium DV» and «Afalina».
Coincidences do not end at same day declarations and common phone numbers. According to SPARK data, the companies are also tied with common founders and directors.
For example, the companies “Afalina LLC” and “Oceanarium DV LLC” are registered in Nikolayev district of the Khabarovsk kray. According to SPARK information, «Afalina LLC” is based in the village Innokentevka, «Oceanarium DV» — in the village of Chnyrra, and by a surprising coincidence have the same phone number. Also, the companies are connected with one person, Alexander Pozdnyakov. At the moment, he is the sole founder of «Afalina LLC” and by June 21, 2013 was also owning 50% of «Oceanarium DV».
The companies “Sochi Dolphinarium” LLC and “White Whale” LLC are connected with the entrepreneur Kirill Mikhailov. The founder of Sochi Dolphinarium owned 72% of “White Whale” LLC until February 2018, and he was also a general director of this enterprise until March.
In addition, all four companies co-founded the Association for the Coordination of Activities in the Protection and Conservation of Marine Mammals (pretty big name that speaks for itself).
Until February 2018 CEO of this association was the same Kirill Mikhailov. Moreover, the he is a co-owner of «UK» Belaya Sphera LLC” (“White Sphere”). The company manages five water parks and dolphinariums in Russia and one in Egypt, and also took a part in designing and engineering nine water parks, two dolphinariums and the Moskvarium at VDNKh.
That same Moskvarium where the orca Narnia, separated from Orpheus and Grace, lives since August 2015.
Kirill Mikhailov made a comment for Novaya Gazeta that catching / capturing orcas on Russian territory is absolutely legal. «The killer whale is not a rare animal, it is not listed in the Endangered list (Red Book) of the Russian Federation and is classified as a commercial / drive fishery species, which means that the total permitted catch is defined every year annually,» he said.
Whales in China
In 2017, over 9.5 million people visited the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, China. The largest aquarium in the world is an arena and the place for several hundreds of marine inhabitants at the same time. Seals, dolphins, tiger sharks entertain crowds behind the glass wall daily from morning till evening.
According to the Import Genius database, between 2013 and 2015 nine killer whales were imported to Zhuhai Chimelong Investment & Development from Russia. Five of them were exported by “Sochi Dolphinarium LLC”. The nicknames of animals appeared in the news reports, where we have found a mention of Grace and Orpheus. Although, no killer whales have been on a public display yet. In February 2017 the launch of an orca breeding center in Zhuhai was announced. According to media reports, this is exactly where Russian orcas Grace and Orpheus live with seven others.
One of the “Linyi Polar Ocean World” Oceanarium’s buildings in Shandong Province, points to the Latin name of mammals — Orca bay. On the park’s website is mentioned that all four killer whales were bought from Russia for two hundred million yuan. The number matched with how many killer whales were declared for sale to Dalian Dragon-Leader.
In 2017 the oceanarium Wuxi Changqiao Ocean Kingdom, the opening of which is scheduled for 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. Until the aquarium’s construction is over, orcas will be kept in the “foster” center. 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.
The number of Chinese oceanariums is growing rapidly — Shanghai Haichang Polar Ocean Park is scheduled to open on September 28th, where the show with four orcas have been promised to visitors. At least three more Chinese aquariums have announced their plan to purchase these rare animals: Bayuquan Beluga World, Hainan Ocean Paradise and Qingdao Ocean Dream World. It is quite possible that the orcas captured in Russia this year will be sent to these facilities.
We all can assume who will be a supplier.
Representatives of Russian Federal Fisheries Agency responded to “Novaya Gazeta” that approved quota for 13 orcas was shared between the same four companies: “White Whale”( “Beliy Kit”), “Sochi Dolphinarium LLC”, “Oceanarium DV” and “Afalina LLC”. “Afalina” has quota for four orca , the other companies — three orca each.
We send letters to the owners of Chinese oceanariums with the question whether they know that the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office states that sale of killer whales to other countries is illegal. They never responded.
On the hunter’s trace
«We have canceled all our plans,» — admits the captain of the “Ocean Friends” expedition Vyacheslav Kozlov. — The idea of the expedition to monitor the capture activity was born spontaneously. We learned only in May that the capture will take place this year.
Prior to this it was assumed that the quotas will remain at zero and hunters will be out of work. A team of 7 volunteers went to monitor the capture of killer whales in the sea of Okhotsk on July 30 and a month later returned back home.
The expedition went to the location where hunters are searching for orcas — to the North-Western subzone of the sea of Okhotsk. The hunters opened fire on the drone that team of volunteers intended to use to observe the catch on the first day of the expedition .
— Nobody expected such reaction, — Vyacheslav remembers. — Just imagine strangers shook hands and then opened fire on the drone right away! And we flew the drone over the free territory.
Soon the ship «Yuri Shvetsov» arrived with two killer whales on board and one of the hunters «clarified» the situation. «Don’t even think about flying it — we will shoot it down», — Vyacheslav repeats his words.
During the expedition, Alexander Kramchanikov was responsible for security. According to him, the hunters were strongly opposing volunteers.
— The only thing that we asked is it to show us the animals, so we can make sure they were fine and safe, — Alexander said with indignation. They said “no”.
Members of the expedition have a version about why they got such a reaction from hunters.
— We weren’t going to interfere in capture process, — Vyacheslav noted. — But we understand why they don’t want any witnesses around to see the capture — it is associated with economic losses.
Any observed killer whale death is a big financial and reputational loss for the hunters.
— Financial loss because it is minus one quota, and respectively, a lot of money. Also Reputational loss — even though international community already knows that the animals die during capture. If there will be a proof about such cruelty it could lead to already known precedents when even the Chinese oceanariums broke contracts and refused to purchase orcas.
In the result of aggression “Ocean Friends” watched the hunter from afar. Volunteers admit that hunter’s crew was equipped in the best possible way: catamarans, special boats for capture, excellent communication equipment, shore support and even a helicopter. All that was used in the capture operation.
Only those which can fit into container are selected
Volunteers explained that when orcas show up in the Bay catamarans in pairs come out of a small cove, they all are are connected by nets between catamarans. «At some point catamarans start to go to opposite directions and net off the orcas. Nobody knows how many orcas were pulled from the nets, how many were entangled in the nets and how many died — says Vyacheslav.
«What kind of humane capture are we talking about?» — he stated. – «You can not surround a family of orcas with nets and tell them: «You are staying with us, and the rest are free to swim away»
— We’ve seen how an adult male got entangled, and they can reach six tons, it’s physically impossible to capture such animal. That’s how the animals are getting killed in nets. Hunters only take those who can fit in the container. We asked these questions to the hunters. All they had to say :»it’s just a business».
On the last day of expedition “Ocean Friends” camp was slammed. It happened after a family of five orcas swam into an unnamed cove near the Bay of Constantine , and volunteers decided to follow the hunters, who moved towards the pod of orcas.
We saw that hunters took catamarans, — Vyacheslav said. — But when we tried to record the capture — hunters stopped the process and started swimming away heading towards our camp.
When volunteers returned to the camp — it was destroyed.
— All things were turned out, thrown out. You know, even our first aid kit was opened up. The food products were all scattered, all the fuel was poured put on the ground and on the sea shore. We were missing equipment with total cost of 300 000 rubles. We saw hunter’s vessels around 500 meters away on our way to the camp. People in vessels smiled mischievously and showed various rude hand gestures to us.
After that we were forced to stop the expedition.
It is too early to plan a second expedition— «Ocean Friends» thinks that «we need to make every effort to avoid a reason for the expedition next year.»
In the spring of 2016, «Ocean Friends» participated in the rescue of four killer whales that stuck in the ice near Starodubsk.
— I coordinated communication with scientists and volunteers, — Vyacheslav tells . — I wasn’t standing in ice water. But I know those people who united to save those four animals. People established a connection with orcas. Rescuers told how one male who couldn’t be pulled out in any way — helped them to rescue him.
— Many participants of rescue operations received government awards. But I know at least one who wants to give it back. I do not understand how the state can thank people for saving orcas and issue quotas for capture of these same animals — for the fun of Chinese taxpayers. I do not know how to look into the eyes of people who stood in the icy water for a day, pushing the ice, helping those orcas to escape horrible death. And here we are, just two years later, see these animals are being killed and imprisoned.