The Sinister Business of the Capture and Sale of Marine Mammals

April 11, 2019

The Sinister Business of the Capture and Sale of Marine Mammals

By Ruben D. Arvizu*

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A little more than a year ago, in Russian territorial waters, traffickers disguised as fishermen illegally captured 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales, including their calves. The purpose was to sell these intelligent cetaceans to Chinese and Korean companies in the thriving business of marine parks in Asia, where these animals are exploited in so-called entertainment centers. The sale negotiations were unsuccessful and the operation was canceled. The damage was already done, the animals were very far from their natural habitat and had to be "stored" somewhere. The sale transactions for each animal reach enormous figures of millions of dollars.

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Presently, these cetaceans are held in narrow walled enclosures in the middle of icy waters with the undeniable deterioration of their health. Let's not forget that they are beings that swim daily tens and hundreds of miles in the seas living an existence of absolute freedom. More than a million Russians have signed a petition in favor of the whales and orcas supporting the huge and growing world protest demanding their release.

President Vladimir Putin, through his Ministry of Natural Resources, requested the intervention and help of Jean-Michel Cousteau and his organization, Ocean Futures Society, to find an immediate solution to this serious problem. The renowned oceanographer, a defender of the oceans and follower of the mission of his father, Jacques Cousteau, answered the call and is in the province of Primorye where these seafaring creatures are housed in a small bay in the Sea of Okhotsk.


Jean-Michel, together with Charles Vinick, Executive Director of the Whale Sanctuary Project, signed a collaboration agreement with the Russian authorities to immediately begin work to achieve the rehabilitation and release of the cetaceans. Cousteau said "We are going to work with their scientists, with observers, with those who work directly with animals, to help them. It will be a long mission, we do not know how long the appropriate release will take, preferably in the waters where they were captured so they can be reunited with their family groups."

The marine parks and aquariums are in decline in the United States and Europe due to the growing opposition from a conscious public. They repudiate the captivity of marine mammals due to the trauma caused by the violent separation from their habitats and their families. These sociable beings suffer the consequences of missing what is natural and important to their daily existence.


Many scientists have requested that they are recognized as "non-human persons" based on studies that demonstrate their intelligence. The awareness and respect for these animals are also growing in Latin America despite the opening of new and huge parks and aquariums in Mexico and Argentina. The developers of these aquariums and marine parks claim that in those facilities they are safe from predators and that they are well fed and receive veterinary attention. The reality is that they can only swim in endless circles in captivity. They are kept in small pools and cannot behave naturally. The chronic stress of captivity weakens their immune systems, causing them to die prematurely. As I am writing this article I see in the news that on April 8, a pilot whale of approximately eight years of age died in Sea World. In January, a killer whale died in the same marine park, but still, no reason is known.

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(L-R) Charles Vinick, Executive Director of The Whale Sanctuary Project, Oleg Kozhemyako, the Governor of the Primorsky Region, and Jean-Michel Cousteau, President of Ocean Futures Society sign the agreement which states that all of the captive whales held in Nakhodka will be released back into their natural environment.

The famous and very well designed Aquarium of Atlanta is listed as one of the worst in the United States in relation to the care and health of whales and dolphins with several deaths in recent years. Because of that, they will no longer accept animals captured from their natural habitats. In the infamous list of the 10 worst marine entertainment facilities in North America, in addition to the Atlanta Aquarium, there are several parks of SeaWorld, Marineland in Ontario, Canada, and Puerto Aventuras Dolphin Discovery in Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Dolphin Discovery operates the following marine parks:

  • Mexico City: Six Flags
  • Mexican Caribbean: Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Costa Maya, Cozumel, Tulum-Akumal, Dreams Puerto Aventuras, Riviera Maya- Puerto Aventuras, Dolphin Discovery Playa del Carmen
  • Mexican Pacific: Los Cabos- Vallarta
  • Caribbean Islands: Anguilla-St. Maarten, Grand Cayman, Cayman Cove, Tortola, Punta Cana, St. Kitts East Coast
  • United States: Gulf World
  • Jamaica: Dolphin Cove Montego Bay, Dolphin Cove Ocho Rios, Moon Palace Jamaica Grande
  • Argentina: Marine Park Aquarium Mar del Plata (Acquired in December 2018)
  • Italy: Zoomarine- Roma (Acquired in 2015)

Another Mexican company that has installations with marine mammals in captivity that interact with the public is Ventura Entertainment / Blau Life. Their parks include Aquarium Inbursa, Interactive Aquarium in Mexico City, Aquarium of Bajío in León, Guanajuato and the Beach Aquarium in the Riviera Maya. Additionally, the group is advising the Chinese company, Sunriver, with the conceptual development and construction of 7 new parks in China.

We need a radical change of attitude towards our friends from the ocean. Let's not allow the cetaceans, marine mammals and sharks to continue to be placed in conditions of slavery that does not permit their healthy and harmonious development. Let's demand that the regulations that protect these animals are complied with. Do not visit or patronize the sites that offer shows where they are exploited for entertainment and heartless business. Maybe then we can hope that in the not too distant future, situations like the one in Russia do not happen again.

* Ruben D. Arvizu is Director General for Latin America of Ocean Futures Society, Writer / Producer and Film Director. Director for Latin America of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and Ambassador of the Global Cities Covenant on Climate.

The Whale Sanctuary Project is supporting the mission to Russia and has created a special fundraising campaign to meet the costs of this initial visit. Your tax-deductible donations to this fund are greatly appreciated. Please click here.

You can also make donations to Ocean Futures Society to support the mission to Russian and our ongoing efforts in spreading awareness about marine mammals in captivity. Please click here.

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