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North Atlantic right whale

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Two orcas taken in illegal capture in Russia

Two killer whales were captured in recent weeks in Nikolaya Gulf, in the southwestern Sea of Okhotsk, the Russian Far East. The captors are reporting that the orcas were actually taken in 2013 and spent the winter in Nikolaya Gulf. This is impossible because the Gulf is completely frozen in winter. Word is that the orcas are being transported toward Komsomolsk-on-Amur, 356 km NE of Khabarovsk. Final destination is unknown.

“These captures appear to be illegal,” says Erich Hoyt, WDC research fellow and co-director of the Far East Russia Orca Project which has been studying orcas in the Kamchatka area for 15 years. “No quotas have yet been issued for orca captures in 2014, following disagreements between the Russian fisheries board and the scientific advisory board in Russia who recommended zero captures. Without a quota which is necessary to get a permit, the captures would be illegal.”

Seven killer whales have been taken in the Sea of Okhotsk since late 2012. This new capture brings the overall total since 2002 to 15 orcas, according to a paper presented to the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee in Slovenia in May.

“These are mostly Bigg’s or transient-type orcas who have been captured,” says Hoyt. “We don’t have any abundance estimates of orcas living in the Sea of Okhotsk, so these captures are being conducted in the dark and against the advice of killer whale scientists inside and outside of Russia.”

The killer whale scientists at the IWC committee meeting noted in their paper that “the live-capture of killer whales raises concerns because it targets the same local stock of transient killer whales in the western Okhotsk Sea. Russian officials deny the existence of killer whale ecotypes in the Russian Far East, and consequently do not manage fish-eating and mammal-eating killer whales as different management units. No reliable abundance estimates of either killer whale ecotype in the Okhotsk Sea are available.”

[Reference: Filatova, O.A., Shpak, O.V., Ivkovich, T.V., Borisova, E.A., Burdin, A.M., Hoyt, E. 2014. Killer whale status and live-captures in the waters of the Russian Far East. IWC Scientific Committee, Slovenia, 5pp (SC/65b/SM07)]