In a possible bid to increase the money made during the Winter Olympics, Sochi’s Aquatoria is said to be ready to receive two wild orcas–or killer whales, as they are often called–which were captured specifically for the aquarium.
While whaling, which kills some of the largest marine animals in Earth’s big oceans, is illegal in most of the world, capturing these animals in the wild is not something that many countries have addressed. A pair of wild orcas were apparently officially sought by the Aquatoria, and were captured by whalers in ocean waters just a bit north of Japan.
Japan is one of a few countries that has not outlawed the hunting of whales in territorial waters, though hunting in international waters has become difficult due to the efforts of whale protection groups. These groups have put certain waters under international protection, though with few boats to patrol these areas, it cannot be certain if those laws are being respected.
Officials at the Aquatoria have officially confirmed that at least one orca is on its way to Sochi in time for the Olympics. The news was posted by the Russian Orca team, whose leaders consist of Erich Hoyt, a top level researcher at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and Alexander Burdin, the leader of the Laboratory of Animal Ecology at the Kamchatka Institute of Ecology and Nature Management.
According to a written statement made by the Aquatoria officials, a single orca was legally captured and taken to a base that is specially equipped to adapt the orca to captivity. The orca will later be brought to Sochi in time for the Winter Games.
Since the statement was released, public outcry has been intense. Advocates of whale protection have created an online petition asking Russia not to show the captured wild orcas during the Sochi Winter Olympics. It currently has nearly 110,000 signatures, and mentions that placing orcas in an aquarium causes suffering.
Paul Spong, the founder of the whale research station OrcaLab near Vancouver Island, agrees, adding that aside from unusual exceptions, the lives of captive orcas are much shorter than those of their ocean-dwelling relatives. He also mentioned how the spirit of the Olympics would be violated by such a display, saying that the Olympics are supposed to be demonstrating the best that humans can be, and that the capture and exhibition of wild orcas is not showing humanity at its finest. Others believe that capturing and holding an orca in a small tank is animal abuse and can put a great strain on the beloved orcas.
There has been no word from the Aquatoria since the public condemnation began, or if the orcas will still be displayed. Because the creatures are not part of any official Olympic event, it is unlikely that Olympic officials will be able to do much to dissuade the aquarium if they do decide to display the orcas.
Captive orcas have caused serious problems even after being stuck in the tanks. The famous and deadly incident at Sea World in 2010 had an orca killing its trainer, with the belief being that the whale in question was bored, isolated, sensory deprived and bred too often. Other orcas have also attacked their trainers, also. The documentary Blackfish asked the question whether dolphins and whales should be kept captive at all. If these wild orcas were captured solely for the purpose of being on display during the Sochi Winter Olympics, it will likely be up to the patrons of the games to support or boycott such an exhibition.
By Marisa Corley