Dozens of orcas and beluga whales are being kept prisoner in a ‘breeding ground’ in ice-cold water in unsustainable conditions. Footage of this ‘whale prison’ has recently been the focus of a scandal in Nakhodka in the south-east of Russia.
This structure is nothing more than an open-air animal detention centre. Technically, it’s permanently closed, and the first images were revealed in 2018, forcing the Russian government and Vladimir Putin to react. The ‘capture of whales for scientific purposes’ was then re-evaluated and the four Chinese companies that manage the centre were sentenced to pay fines for their violation of fishing laws.
But the animals are still being held captive: 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales to be more precise.
New images taken by a drone have really stirred up a commotion among animal rights associations who are demanding immediate measures to be taken.
The centre is said to have captured around a hundred orcas and beluga whales. Among those were 15 baby belugas that weren’t at self-sufficient at the time and which are officially prohibited from being kept in captivity throughout the world.
Greenpeace has provided alarming details about the living conditions of the animals. They were imprisoned in openings drilled into the ice and they don’t have a lot of space to move about in which is an unbearable situation for the marine mammals that have to move to be able to protect themselves from the cold. The animals are suffering from the huge differences in temperatures in this part of the world where the waters can sometimes reach -15°C.
The activists have also noticed wounds on the whale’s skin because of these extreme temperatures. Since the enclosures are so small, new layers of ice regularly form over them. The employees at this centre then pierce this new ice with a shovel, injuring the animals in the head, sometimes fatally. Three beluga whales have already died from this.
Finally, the animal rights associations fear that the younger the specimens are, the more incapable they will be of adapting to the wild once they’re free, which could be their undoing.
An actual business
Although these animals are currently detained, they are to be sold to water parks across all of Asia, since each animal is actually worth between 1 and 10 million dollars.
This capture of animals like this isn’t new and continues because these so-called ‘breeding grounds’ make the most of a legal loophole that exists in Russia. There is no law that regulates the capture of protected aquatic animals. Often, the people who manage these structures masquerade as scientists that are carrying out studies or research. Therefore, it’s impossible for the authorities to put an end to these deadly practices.