On 2nd December the Russian officials have announced that they have dismantled the infamous “whale jail” meant for raising a large number of beluga whales and orca in a narrow cage.
The “whale jail” was secretly operated in Srednyaya Bay near Nakhodka in the Far East, and in 2018 nearly 100 belugas and orca were bred. Many were to be exported to Chinese aquariums.
In 2019, animal and environmental groups launched a campaign for liberation. Russia is the only country that can capture orca and beluga whales for “educational” purposes, but it is being exported to meet the growing demand for oceanariums in China through a loophole in the law. On 22nd February 2019, the Russian government intervened in the matter, saying that the fate of “suffering” animals should be resolved.
But within the government, there was a divergent view between the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, which demanded the release of dolphins, and the Federal Fisheries Agency, which advocated capture as part of a legitimate industry.
There are two types of orca: common orca that feeds on fish and rare herds that feed on seals. It is said that the latter, which is rarer, has been captured. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment tried to classify seal predators into “Endangered IBs” designated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN ). According to the ministry, there were only 200 adult seal predators in Russian waters.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture, which has jurisdiction over the Federal Fisheries Agency, saw the entire orca as a threat to fish stocks and claimed that the orca is not at stake. These matters seem to be have resolved.
Dmitry Lisitsyn, president of the Sakhalin Environmental Watch, the NGO that led the liberation movement, said that it should have been dismantled sooner. Risitzin says it was “very hard” to return the fish to the sea. Most were just born and unfit for wildlife, so they were released to the Sea of Okhotsk through a reintroduction program.
As far as I know, there is only one “dolphin prison” in the country, said Risitzin, but there are other facilities that keep large marine animals in a hostile environment for shows at the aquarium.