In January, Raw Story broke the news that two orcas which were supposedly on their way to Sochi in time to be shown off for the Winter Olympics instead had been flown to Moscow, where all news of them ended.
Relying on accounts from local animal-welfare activists, we suggested that the two orcas, captured off the east coast of Russia in 2012, were being held in horrible conditions — two temporary tanks at a Moscow exhibition center where a new oceanarium is planned, but could be years from completion.
Raw Story has made multiple attempts to get confirmation about whether the two animals are actually being kept in the tanks, and now, Moscow police have admitted that such is the case, telling the Moscow Times that the animals are there.
The Times story is incorrect that the two animals were caught by poachers. As we reported in January, Russia is allowed a certain quota of orca captures each year, but they hadn’t used it in several years. But a consortium of aquarium companies had suddenly become aggressive about pursuing the animals beginning in 2012, and caught several of them, legally. They included Narnia, a 5-meter-long female, and a younger unnamed male, who were housed originally at a facility near Vladivostok.
While some media outlets then reported that the two whales were on their way to Sochi, we showed that reports on social media suggested that instead they had been flown to Moscow for the new aquarium, which is to be built at the All-Russia Exhibition Centre on the north side of the city.
The $63 million project will include a large pool with enough room for two orcas, according to plans put out by the developers…
But that facility is still in the future. For now, the only place the two animals could be kept are in two small cement tanks. Animal-welfare activists in Moscow had told us they could hear orca sounds coming from the facility, but the tanks were covered with an inflatable shell and there was no official word, until now, that the animals are being housed there…
The Moscow Times piece confirmed the worst fears:
Narnia and her nameless companion have had to spend 10 months — and counting — at a temporary facility, Irina Novozhilova, head of [animal rights group] Vita, told The Moscow Times on Sunday.
The facility is closed to the public, but Novozhilova said, citing her group’s investigation, that it is 65 meters long and contains two separate tanks for the orcas that she described as “solitary confinement cells.”
The space is nowhere near enough for the orcas, which are known to cover up to 150 kilometers a day in the ocean, said Konstantin Zgurovsky, who supervises the marine program at WWF Russia.
“This is a huge stress that could make them dangerous,” Zgurovsky said by telephone.
The concrete walls will also be interfering with the orcas’ echolocation, which could leave the whales deaf, Novozhilova said.
The police report published by Vita said the animals were being kept in carefully maintained conditions, with filtered water, a diet consisting of 12 species of fish, and human access limited to experienced trainers and teams of vets.
When we learned in January that the animals might have been confined to the small tanks, which are about 20 meters across by 5 meters deep, we asked Courtney Vail of Whale and Dolphin Conservation if she knew how bad it would be for the animals.
She told us she didn’t expect them to survive very long in them.
So the first orcas ever held in captivity in Russia will be swimming in the small tanks until the aquarium can be completed, supposedly some time next year. If they make it.