Mark J. Palmer / Earth Island Institute
Mark J. Palmer / Earth Island Institute
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EXCLUSIVE: Russian Government Says NYET to New Orca & Beluga Capture Permits in 2019

| Mark J. Palmer
Topics: belugas, China, Dolphin and Whale Trade, Orcas, Russia

Thanks to the support of the people of Russia, Russian media, and scientists and activists from around the world, the Russian government agency considering issuing new permits to companies to capture wild orcas and beluga whales for sale to Chinese parks has decided no new permits should be issued in 2019.

Not only did the Russian government reject the issuance of new permits, they further ruled that orcas and beluga whales in the future should only be caught for scientific purposes, which should put an end to the captures permanently.  However, there are many layers in the Russian government, and we will all have to be watching for any backsliding.

The government had previously ruled a couple of years ago that an environmental analysis of the impact of such captures on wild orcas should preclude any captures.  Furthermore, under Russian law, orcas and belugas should only be caught for purposes of scientific research and educational/cultural purposes. Clearly, selling such orcas to China violates these provisions.

But something happened in 2018, and a rushed environmental assessment by a questionable group of scientists (none were marine mammal experts; one was an expert on ticks!) was pushed through at the last-minute, allowing four companies to capture up to 13 orcas in the summer of 2018.  Eleven of those orcas (the Russian Eleven) along with around 90 beluga whales were captured and are now in small pens in a port on Russia’s Pacific Coast, awaiting sale to China.

However, a Russian agency recently denied export permits for some of the beluga whales, and it is not clear what will become of the Russian Eleven and 90 belugas at this time.   Russian conservationists and IMMP have called for these animals to be restored to their former pods in the ocean.

Russian conservationists, upon learning of the new 2018 permits, heroically took counter-measures, conducting their own investigations (including a cruise to video orca captures which resulted in threats from the capture companies with firearms) and complaining to the Russian government.

The International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute also took action, sending a strong letter to the US Russian Ambassador.  A group of 25 marine mammal scientists also sent a letter to the government urging no issuance of permits for the capture of orcas, explaining the harm such captures cause both for the orcas captured and the pods left behind.

Local conservationists were also successful in getting the attention of Russian media, resulting in a number of stories revealing the captures and questioning the legality of the permits for 2018.  International stories also appeared in The Guardian, CNN and CBS News.

For the moment, thank you all for your support of IMMP and our work to protect whales and dolphins! And special thanks to our friends and colleagues in Russia.

Russia is currently the only place in the world where orca and beluga whale captures have occurred for captivity.  Hopefully, this will be the end of wild captures of these important species altogether! (But we will remain vigilant.)


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