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Image: Peter Flood

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An orca lies in the surf as people look at it.

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Arrests made in Russia following illegal whale trafficking scandal

Law enforcement agencies in Russia have conducted searches at the TINRO Centre (the office of the Federal State Budget Scientific Institution) and detained its director, Lev Bocharov.

Mr Bocharov is accused of the illegal export of beluga whales and orcas involving payments of millions of rubles. Reports suggest that up to 42 million rubles were received in exchange for the sale of 10 wild beluga whales to China.

The Federal State Budget Scientific Institution have been criticised by Russian authorities for ‘misuse’ of these belugas, which were captured for so-called educational and cultural purpose. However, it appears that they were sold on to a third party and then exported out of Russia for commercial use in captivity shows in China.

In November 2015, the environmental prosecutors office issued a warning to the TINRO Centre regarding the movement of captured orcas for scientific purposes across Russian Federation customs borders. These orcas should not have been sold on for commercial purposes.

These illegal deals have been driven by increasing demand from China for marine mammals like beluga whales and orcas. Some orcas are fetching up to $7m and, according to reports from Russia, 13 orcas were sold between 2013 and 2016.

WDC’s Erich Hoyt said  ‘A lot of money is changing hands and whale families are being split up without any thought of what happens after these captures. It is really time for these activities, whether legal or illegal, to stop.’

More on orcas held in Chinese marine parks.

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