Animal activists propose to return killer whales to natural conditions, and use the pool for the world’s first theater under water and a training base for free divers.
The story of killer whales, which have been hidden in tanks near the Moscow Oceanarium under construction for more than a year, is full of rumors and conflicting opinions. The fact that animal protection organizations and independent experts were never allowed into these premises leads to sad conclusions. The leadership of VDNKh claims that everything is in order with the killer whales and that proper conditions have been created for them. But is it possible outside the ocean? Are huge five- and even ten-meter animals, swimming in natural conditions more than 150 km a day, capable of living in captivity? And why is there a worldwide trend towards the closure of marine amusement parks?
But first things first.
The case of the “Moscow” killer whales: chronology
December 2 marks a year since two killer whales caught in the Far East for the Moscow Oceanarium under construction are languishing in two cylindrical structures covered with an inflatable hangar on top. The animals were delivered on a 10-hour special flight from Vladivostok to Moscow with a stop in Krasnoyarsk, and all this in the strictest secrecy. According to media reports, a third animal was brought to Moscow from Sochi just a week ago.
The fact that strange sounds are heard from the hangar of VDNKh was the first to be spoken by local residents and visitors to the exhibition. The topic began to be discussed in social networks, appeals to animal protection organizations rained down. On February 19, the leadership of the then All-Russian Exhibition Center (the exhibition was renamed at VDNKh a little later) received a request from a journalist asking him to explain what the exhibition staff was hiding in the tanks. On February 27, he received an answer that the tanks serve the purpose of water supply of the All-Russian Exhibition Center.
Several months passed, rumors and assumptions (as it turned out later, by no means groundless) only grew. On September 10, Marat Khusnullin, deputy mayor of the capital for urban policy and construction, said that the whales for the oceanarium under construction were indeed purchased, but they are in the Far East.
Later, the Vita Animal Rights Protection Center found information on the websites of the state newspapers of the Krasnoyarsk Territory that killer whales were transported by IL plane to the capital in December 2013 and successfully delivered to VDNKh. Animal rights activists and a journalist who turned to the All-Russian Exhibition Center with a request wrote a statement to the police, to which 10 days later they received a response confirming their correctness. At the same time, the criminal case on cruelty to animals “Vita” was denied, since the owners of killer whales in their testimony said that all the proper conditions for keeping the animals had been created. The results of the analyzes and conclusions of veterinarians and experts were not provided, not to mention the layout of the facilities.
On October 23, Vita prepared an official press release that caused a real scandal. Journalists literally attacked the hangar, trying to remove the prisoners, but the guards did not let anyone inside, continuing to ridiculously refute the obvious.
Representatives of two public organizations, accompanied by eight media channels, asked for comments from the management of VDNKh. In response, the public delegation was denied access to killer whales. In the evening of the same day, the VDNKh press service sent out videos and photos to the media, allegedly proving the ideal condition of the animals:
“The shots were taken with a wide-angle camera, which already makes it possible to make an airplane out of a mosquito, and animals are shown close-up on the screen,” says Irina Novozhilova, president of the Vita Animal Welfare Center. – This is how they shoot pictures for cookbooks when you need to depict the ocean. A cup is taken, a houseplant is behind, the surface of the water is removed at a precisely adjusted angle. The next day, major stories came out in most of the media, exuding praise for the oceanarium. Some correspondents seem to have forgotten that no one was allowed inside, and no results of possible examinations were provided.
Another two months have passed and the situation has not changed. But he managed to sue Vita LLC Sochi Dolphinarium (its branch is being built in the capital – ed.). The lawsuit states that the organization allegedly discredited the honor and dignity of the representatives of the oceanarium. The trial is not taking place in Moscow, but in Anapa (at the place of registration of the plaintiff), because a certain blogger from Anapa watched an interview with Vita on one of the channels and prefaced this video with his comment about the sad fate of killer whales.
“Now the issue is tough, right up to the closure of the organization,” continues Irina Novozhilova. “We have already received threats, our email box has been hacked, and internal correspondence has become public. On the basis of illegally obtained information, more than a dozen “discrediting” articles were published. It must be understood that a dangerous precedent is being set. If marine mammal experts remain silent, and journalists do not even try to objectively assess the situation, analyzing not only the official position of stakeholders, but also world experience in this matter, this story will consolidate lawlessness and violence.
The described events show that we, Russian animal rights activists, entered that stage of the animal rights movement when we became visible. Our movement is taking a toll on the animal entertainment industry. And now we have to go through the stage of courts.
Killer whales go crazy in captivity
Of all the species that man tries to keep in captivity, it is cetaceans that endure it the worst. Firstly, due to the fact that they are socialized and intellectually developed animals that need constant communication and food for the mind.
Secondly, it has long been known that cetaceans use echolocation to navigate in space and search for food. To study the situation, animals send signals that are reflected from a solid surface. If these are the reinforced concrete walls of the pool, then it will be a string of endless sounds, meaningless reflections.
— Do you know how dolphins spend their time in the dolphinarium after training and performances? – He speaks project manager of the Center for the Protection of Animal Rights “Vita” Konstantin Sabinin. — They freeze in place with their noses against the wall and don’t make a sound because they are in a constant state of stress. Now imagine what the clapping of the audience is for dolphins and killer whales? Cetaceans that have worked in captivity for several years often go crazy or simply become deaf.
Thirdly, the very technology of making sea water is detrimental to animals. Traditionally, sodium hypochlorite is added to ordinary water and an electrolyzer is used. When combined with water, hypochlorite forms hypochlorous acid, when combined with animal excrement, it creates toxic organochlorine compounds, leading to mutations. They burn the mucous membrane of animals, provoke dysbacteriosis. Dolphins and killer whales begin to be treated with antibiotics, giving drugs to revive the microflora. But as a result of this, the liver fails in the unfortunate. The ending is one – zero less life expectancy.
– that the mortality of killer whales in dolphinariums is two and a half times higher than natural indicators, – members of the initiative group for showing in Russia claim movie “Blackfish”*. – They rarely live up to 30 years (the average life expectancy in the wild is 40-50 years for males and 60-80 years for females). The maximum known age of a killer whale in the wild is about 100 years.
The worst thing is that in captivity killer whales tend to spontaneously show an aggressive reaction to humans. of more than 120 cases of aggressive behavior of killer whales in captivity towards humans, including 4 fatal cases, as well as several attacks that miraculously did not lead to the death of a person. For comparison, in the wild there was not a single case of a killer whale killing a person.
VDNKh says that the water area of the pools in which animals live is more than 8 cubic meters, these are two combined pools with a diameter of 000 meters and a depth of 25 meters, the dimensions of the killer whales themselves are 8 meters and 4,5 meters.
“But they did not provide evidence of this information,” says Irina Novozhilova. – In the video sent, killer whales swim in only one of the tanks. According to tacit information, which we cannot verify, other marine animals are also kept on the territory of VDNKh. If this is true, then there is no way killer whales can be in two containers, because they are carnivores. This fact was confirmed by experts, having studied the quota for catching: these killer whales were caught in areas where the population of carnivores lives. That is, if you put these killer whales with other animals, the whales will simply eat them.
Mormlek experts, after watching the video, made the sad conclusion that the animals feel bad, their vitality is reduced. The fins are lowered – in a healthy animal they stand upright. The color of the epidermis is changed: instead of a snow-white color, it has acquired a gray tint.
— Amusement parks with marine animals is an industry on the blood. “Animals die during capture, transportation, in the pools themselves,” says Irina Novozhilova. “Any barrel, rusty or gold, is still a barrel. It is impossible to create normal conditions for killer whales, even if we are talking about an oceanarium on the ocean: imprisonment in captivity plunges the animal into a state of depression until the end of its days.
60 closed dolphinariums /
Today, there are about 52 orcas in captivity in the world. At the same time, there is a clear trend towards a reduction in the number of oceanariums and dolphinariums. This activity becomes financially defeatist. The largest oceanariums suffer losses, including due to numerous lawsuits. The final statistics is as follows: 60 dolphinariums and oceanariums in the world are closed, and 14 of them curtailed their activities at the construction stage.
Costa Rica is a pioneer in this direction: it was the first in the world to ban dolphinariums and zoos. In England or Holland, aquariums are closed for several years to make it less expensive. In the UK, animals quietly live out their lives: they are not thrown away, they are not euthanized, but new amusement parks are not built, since it is forbidden to buy marine mammals here. Aquariums left without animals are either closed or repurposed to display fish and invertebrates.
In Canada, it is now illegal to catch and exploit belugas. In Brazil, the use of marine mammals for entertainment is illegal. Israel has banned the importation of dolphins for recreation. In the United States, in the state of South Carolina, dolphinariums are completely outlawed; in other states, the same trend is emerging.
In Nicaragua, Croatia, Chile, Bolivia, Hungary, Slovenia, Switzerland, Cyprus, it is forbidden to keep cetaceans in captivity. In Greece, representations with marine mammals are outlawed, and the Indians generally recognized dolphins as individuals!
It must be clearly understood that the only thing that allows this entertainment industry to stay afloat is the interest of ordinary people who do not know or know, but do not seriously think about the conveyor of death and suffering that accompanies this industry.
AN ALTERNATIVE TO VIOLENCE
How to use the site of the Moscow Oceanarium?
“We propose to open the world’s first underwater theater in Moscow,” they say in Vita. — During the day, free diving training could take place here, and underwater performances in the evenings. You can install 3D plasma screens – the audience will appreciate it!
Learning to dive to great depths without scuba gear in the wild is not safe. In the pool, under the guidance of an instructor, it is a completely different matter. There is no pool deep enough for free divers in the world to train effectively. In addition, it is now fashionable, and the owners of the oceanarium will quickly recoup all costs. After people, there is no need to clean huge pools of faeces with bleach, and people do not need to buy and deliver 100 kg of fish daily.
Is there a chance for “Moscow” killer whales to survive after captivity?
Director of the Russian representation of the Antarctic Alliance, biologist Grigory Tsidulko:
— Yes, killer whales will survive with proper transportation and rehabilitation. Absolutely right. There are organizations and experts who can help animals – not without the help of animal rights activists, of course.
Project Manager of the Vita Animal Rights Protection Center Konstantin Sabinin:
There were such precedents. After a rehabilitation period in the oceanic zone, animals can be released into natural conditions. Such rehabilitation centers exist, we talked with their specialists during the conference on marine mammals. Specialists of this profile also exist.
NO LAWS CONTROL THE CAPTURE AND KEEPING OF MARINE ANIMALS
Head of the working group on killer whale, member of the Board of the Council for Marine Mammals, Ph.D. Olga Filatova:
“Narnia the killer whale and her “cellmate” are just the tip of the iceberg. They were caught in the Sea of Okhotsk as part of the legal business of capturing and trading in marine mammals. The annual quota for capturing killer whales is 10 individuals. Most of the animals are sold to China, although officially the capture is carried out for “training and cultural and educational purposes.” Dolphinarium owners around the world – and Russia is no exception – justify their activities with indistinct cultural and educational value, but in reality they are exclusively commercial institutions, the program of which is focused on satisfying the unpretentious tastes of the general public.
No one knows exactly how many killer whales are in the Sea of Okhotsk. Estimates by various experts range from 300 to 10000 individuals. Moreover, there are two different populations of killer whales that feed on different prey and do not interbreed.
In the waters of the Kuril Islands and in the central part of the Sea of Okhotsk, fish-eating killer whales are mainly found. In the shallow coastal areas of the western, northern and northeastern parts of the Sea of Okhotsk, carnivores predominate (they feed on seals and other marine animals). It is they who are caught for sale, and killer whales from VDNKh belong to this population. In captivity, they are fed “12 kinds of fish”, although in nature they hunted seals.
By law, different populations belong to different “reserves”, and quotas for them must be calculated separately, but in reality this is not done.
Carnivorous killer whales are usually few in number – after all, they are at the top of the food pyramid. Such intensive capture, as now, can undermine the population in a few years. This will be bad news not only for killer whale lovers, but also for local fishermen – after all, it is carnivorous killer whales that regulate the number of seals, which often steal fish from nets.
In addition, control over catching is practically not established. Even careful capture by experienced specialists is a great mental trauma for these smart and social animals, which are torn away from their family and placed in an alien, frightening environment. In our case, everything is much worse, there are no independent observers at the captures, and if some animals die, it is deliberately hidden.
According to official statistics, not a single killer whale has died in recent years, although we know from unofficial sources that this happens regularly. Lack of control encourages abuse at various levels. According to the SMM’s information from local residents, in July of this year, three killer whales were caught illegally before official permits were issued and were sold to China according to 2013 documents.
In Russia, there are no laws or regulations governing the captivity of marine mammals.
9 COUNTERARGUMENTS AGAINST
An initiative group of biologists organizing screenings of the film “Blackfish” * (Black Fin) against the arguments of the press release of the Sochi Dolphinarium.
BF: The practice of whale watching in the wild is now on the rise. In the northern hemisphere and Europe, boat trips are organized where you can watch animals in natural conditions:
and here you can even swim with them.
In Russia, it is possible to watch killer whales in Kamchatka, the Kuril and Commander Islands, in the Far East (for example,). You can come to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and get off on one of the many tourist boats in Avacha Bay (for example,).
In addition, nature documentaries show animals in all their glory and inspire you to reflect on the beauty of the natural world around you. What do children learn by looking at beautiful strong animals hidden in a small cage / pool with absolutely unnatural conditions for them? What will we teach the younger generation by showing them that it is okay to violate someone’s freedom for our pleasure?
BF: Indeed, there are aspects of cetacean biology that are difficult (but not impossible) to study in the wild. “Lifestyle and habits” do not apply to them, because the “lifestyle” of killer whales in captivity is imposed and unnatural. They cannot choose their occupation, activity, or even location, except what is imposed on them by man. Therefore, such observations make it possible to judge only how killer whales adapt to the unnatural conditions of captivity.
BF: There are also mortality data for killer whales and captive-born killer whales from the SeaWorld Aquarium in the States. In total, at least 37 killer whales have died in three SeaWorld parks (plus one more died in Loro Parque, Tenerife). Of the thirty babies born in captivity, 10 died, and many killer whale mothers could not stand the complications during childbirth. At least 30 cases and stillbirths have been registered.
A total of 1964 killer whales have died in captivity since 139. This is not counting those who died during captures from the wild. In comparison, this is almost twice as large as the entire population of Southern Residents, which is now in critical condition due to captures that took place in British Columbia in the 1960s and 70s.
BF: So far, there are a number of studies on different killer whale populations. Some of them last more than 20 (and even more than 40) years.
It is not clear where the 180 figure for Antarctica came from. The most recent estimate of ALL Antarctic killer whales is between 000 and 25 individuals (Branch, TA An, F. and G. G. Joyce, 000).
But at least three killer whale ecotypes live there, and for some of them the status of the species is practically confirmed. Accordingly, estimates of abundance and distribution should be made for each ecotype separately.
In Russia, there are also two ecotypes of killer whales that are reproductively isolated from each other, i.e. they do not mix or interbreed with each other, and represent at least two different populations. This was confirmed by long-term (since 1999) studies in the Far East (Filatova et al. 2014, Ivkovich et al. 2010, Burdinetal. 2006, Filatova et al. 2007, Filatova et al. 2009, Filatova et al. 2010, Ivkovichetal. Filatova et al. 2010 and others). The presence of two isolated populations requires an individual approach to assessing both the abundance and the degree of risk for each population.
As far as Russia is concerned, no specialized assessments of killer whale numbers in the catch area (Sea of Okhotsk) have been carried out. There are only old data collected along the way when observing other species. In addition, the exact number of animals removed from the population during the catch (survivors + dead) is unknown. But at the same time, quotas are allocated annually for catching 10 killer whales. Therefore, without knowing the population size, without taking into account the division into two different populations, without having information about the number of seized individuals, we cannot in any way assess the risks of the population and guarantee its safety.
On the other hand, the world community has a sad experience when 53 individuals (including the dead) were removed from the population of the Southern Resident killer whales (British Columbia) in a few years, which led to a fairly rapid decline in numbers and now this population is on the verge of extinction.
D: The creation of our own center in Russia, where it is possible to observe killer whales in optimal conditions for their maintenance, will allow Russian scientists to reach a new level of knowledge about them. Specialists of the VNIRO** center cooperate with specialists of the Sochi Dolphinarium LLC center in matters of scientific study of killer whales, they have repeatedly visited the complex, which contains mammals.
BF: VNIRO specialists do not study killer whales. Please cite scientific articles that would present the results of these studies. As already noted, the conditions of detention are not optimal. An example is the calculation that a killer whale in a SeaWorld pool needs to swim around the perimeter of the pool at least 1400 times a day in order to at least approximately cover the distance traveled by wild killer whales in a day.
D: Killer whales are under the constant supervision of the State Veterinary Service, as well as seven certified veterinarians. Once a month, a complete medical examination of animals is performed (including clinical and biochemical blood tests, microbiological cultures and swabs from the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract). In addition to the automated water quality control system, the center’s specialists make control measurements of the water quality in the pool every three hours. In addition, water analyzes are monitored monthly for 63 indicators in a specialized laboratory in Moscow. The pools are equipped with special equipment: every three hours the water passes completely through the cleaning filters. The salinity level and water temperature are maintained in accordance with killer whale habitats comparable to natural conditions.
BF: It would be great to see the specific water quality parameters that are accepted here as “comparable to natural conditions”. Water chemistry is known to affect the health of killer whales, and high concentrations of chlorine are used to maintain the pool’s bright blue water, which is so attractive to the public.
D: One killer whale consumes about 100 kilograms of fish per day, its diet is very diverse, it consists of 12 types of high-quality fish, including pink salmon, chum salmon, coho salmon and many others.
BF: The killer whales caught in Russia belong to a carnivorous ecotype that in natural conditions feeds exclusively on marine mammals (fur seals, sea lions, seals, sea otters, etc.). Killer whales, which are now at VDNKh, have NEVER eaten pink salmon, chum salmon, coho salmon, etc. in their natural environment.
Carnivorous killer whales are rare and so different from other killer whale populations in the world that scientists are convinced that they should be identified as a separate species (Morin et al. 2010, Biggetal 1987, Riechetal. 2012, Parsonsetal. 2013 and others). It has been shown that carnivorous killer whales that do not eat fish live in the catch area (Filatova et al. 2014).
Accordingly, eating dead fish does not meet the physiological needs of killer whales, which in nature eat exclusively high-calorie warm-blooded food.
Since the size of this population is unknown, it is clear that trapping permits are issued based not on scientific data, but solely on the basis of commercial interests.
Catching killer whales in Russian waters, to which these whales belong, is not scientifically substantiated, is not subject to any control and reporting (which does not give an understanding of the technology of trapping and mortality of killer whales during capture) and is carried out with juggling of documents (.
Comments prepared by:
— E. Ovsyanikova, biologist, specialist in marine mammals, postgraduate student at the University of Canterbury (New Zealand), participates in a project to study Antarctic killer whales.
— T. Ivkovich, biologist, post-graduate student of St. Petersburg State University. Working with marine mammals since 2002. Participates in the FEROP killer whale research project.
— E. Jikia, biologist, Ph.D., researcher at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of the Federal State Institution of Radiology. Has been working with marine mammals since 1999. She took part in the FEROP killer whale research project, in the study of gray whales in the Sea of Okhotsk and transit killer whales on the Commander Islands.
— O. Belonovich, biologist, Ph.D., researcher at KamchatNIRO. Working with marine mammals since 2002. Participated in projects to study beluga whales in the White Sea, sea lions in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, and to study the interaction between killer whales and fisheries.
* “* (“Black Fin”) – the story of a male killer whale named Tilikum, a killer whale that killed several people at a time when he was already in captivity. In 2010, during a performance at a water amusement park in Orlando, Tilikum dragged trainer Don Brasho underwater and drowned her. As it turns out, this accident (this is how the event was qualified) is not the only one in the case of Tilikum. There is another victim on the account of this killer whale. Black Fin creator Gabriela Cowperthwaite uses shocking footage of a killer whale attack and interviews with witnesses to try to understand the real causes of the tragedy.
The screening of the film provoked protests in the United States and the closure of marine amusement parks (author’s note).
**VNIRO is the leading institute of the fishery industry, coordinating the implementation of plans and programs for fisheries research and development and ensuring the efficiency of all fisheries research organizations in the Russian Federation.
Text: Svetlana ZOTOVA.