After many months of rumor and speculation, it has been confirmed that an exhibition hall in Moscow is building an aquarium that will house wild killer whales captured in the far east of the country. The news was first revealed by The Moscow Times, an English-language daily in the Russian capital.
“It is extremely disappointing and upsetting that an aquarium is being constructed in Russia specifically to house wild-caught Russian orcas,” said Alex Dorer, President and co-founder of Fins and Fluke, a US-based anti-captivity group. “Public opinion worldwide has taken a strong stance against keeping cetaceans in captivity. Russia should follow suit and be among the many nations that have outright banned using animals as entertainment.”
Moscow’s 75-year-old VDNKh (All-Russia Exhibition Centre) is currently undergoing renovations after a large portion of the facility fell into disrepair following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. As part of the redevelopment scheme, the exhibition center will construct a massive new aquarium that will include a killer whale tank for wild-caught orcas currently held on the country’s Pacific coast. Construction is slated for completion by 2015.
Sergei Kapkov, Moscow’s cultural affairs department head, said he hopes the revival of VDNKh will be a magnet for domestic and international tourists to visit Moscow by making the capital a more “trendy” venue. But anti-captivity activists are bewildered and dismayed by the announcement.
“As this center very much focuses on Russian achievements across various industries including architecture, agriculture also historical aspects such as space travel and exploration, the establishment of an aquarium seems like a very strange choice, unless of course it is to highlight their proficiency at wild captures to supply marine parks,” Marine Connection director Margaux Dodds wrote on the group’s website.
“What possible justification can there be for including a killer whale exhibit apart from entertainment. There has been much talk of promoting this site as an educational experience rather than focus on the entertainment aspect, however the inclusion of captive orcas will do little to achieve the former,” Dodds added.
The new aquarium’s orca tank will be about 130,000 cubic feet in size, according to The Moscow Times. “City authorities have already purchased killer whales for it, who are currently being kept in the Far East,” said Marat Khusnullin, deputy mayor for town-planning policies and development, the paper reported.
"They're already waiting for their time to come, to move to Moscow," Khusnullin said.
Last year, Russian orca hunters captured six killer whales and one in 2012 — they sent them to small holding tanks near Vladivostok. Since then, they have been the subject of highly publicized speculation, including false reports last February that a female whale named Narnia and an unnamed male were being sent to an aquarium in Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
This summer, two more killer whales were rounded up in Russia’s Nikolaya Gulf and reportedly shipped to Komsomolsk-on-Amur, a city in the Russian Far East.
It’s not clear how many of the 10 orcas will end up at VDNKh, but it will be the first time in many years that recently caught killer whales will be put on public display (with the arguable exception of Morgan, a young female who was rescued in a stranding off the Dutch coast and sent to Loro Parque in the Canary Islands).
At a time when public sentiment seems to be turning against keeping orcas in tanks, at least in the United States and other countries, captivity opponents are bracing themselves for an entirely new generation of killer whales destined for captivity, not to mention the fresh DNA they will bring to the rather limited captive-orca gene pool.