The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) announced today that they will present early results from a multi-year joint study on the threatened orca (killer whale) population in Far Eastern Russian waters at this week’s Society of Marine Mammology’s 14th Biennial Conference.
This is the first ever research project to focus on orcas in the western North Pacific.
To date, the team has photographically identified 86 animals and approximately 20 different call types, or sounds, providing researchers with insights that may ultimately allow them to develop a profile of this orca population.
Survey results already provide good evidence that these animals are a resident population and not a migratory one.
“The long-term photo-ID and acoustic study will allow us to make important comparisons with other, more intensively studied orca populations inhabiting other parts of the world,” said Erich Hoyt, co-director of the Russian orca project and a WDCS senior research associate. “We should see the initial results as a great opportunity for developing conservation measures up front without putting this species at risk as has been done elsewhere in the past.”
But as researchers and conservationists try to learn from mistakes made in other parts of the world, this population is already at risk. Until recently, very little was known about these orcas, yet the population off Far East Russia was targeted in summer 2001 by Russian captors for the Japanese aquarium industry. The captures were unsuccessful but a Japanese aquarium has recently announced its intention to resume capture activities next year.
It is necessary to take a closer look at aquariums and marine parks worldwide, to understand why these facilities are under great pressure to keep their multi-million dollar businesses going.
Since 1961, at least 134 orcas worldwide have been captured from the wild and taken into captivity. One hundred and nine of these 134 animals are now dead.
In an effort to replace losses from their captive stocks, the captivity industry has searched worldwide for new locations and populations of orcas. Countries such as Iceland and Argentina have refused to provide further capture permits for animals in their waters. In 1999, following a public outcry, the Norwegian Government denied a permit to allow the Port Nagoya Public Aquarium in Japan to capture six live orcas in its waters. This has led the aquarium to seek other sources of orca for display. It is estimated that the current sales price could be as high as $1 million.
Dr. Naomi Rose, Marine Mammal Scientist for the HSUS, whose PhD was on orcas in the eastern North Pacific, comments:
“In light of our findings so far, and the need for more research on Eastern Russian orcas, it would be impossible for any responsible government to prove that the capture would not be detrimental to the survival of the population. Therefore, no responsible state could issue an export permit under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).”
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