Capturing killer whales from the wild has always been enormously controversial: first in the Pacific Northwest, where the first captures took place, and then in Iceland, where the marine park industry went after the Pacific Northwest capture industry was shut down (Iceland eventually shut it down, too). Marine parks, acutely aware of the bad publicity that came from taking killer whales from their wild pods, developed the techniques to breed killer whales in captivity, and since the mid-1980s the majority of killer whales in marine parks have been captive bred.
But it would be wrong to assume that killer whale captures in the wild are a matter for history. Killer whales are enormously valuable to marine parks around the world, and breeding them in captivity is not a simple matter. Recently, according to the Orca Home website, Russia extended a permit for the live capture of killer whales in Russian waters, and Japan might, too:
February 6, 2011:
Capture plans in Russia and Japan
Russia has extended the permit for allowing up to 10 killer whales to be captured from the wild, reports the Russian Orca Project.
And there rumours that Taiji has applied for permits to capture 5 orcas, one to replace Nami who was sold from Taiji to Nagoya and died on 14 January this year, one for Taiji and the others are probably destined for new projects in China.
It’s been a long time since the world has seen wild captures, and new captures would be highly controversial. Hardy Jones of BlueVoice.org, has long tracked the situation in Japan, and produced this video about a 1997 capture:
A lot less is known about Russian orcas, but a friend steered me toward this video that documents the the lives of killer whales that live off the Kamchatka Peninsula:
Part 2 (which includes video of a 2003 capture operation that goes sadly wrong, starting at about 1:30)
I’ll be keeping an eye on what’s happening in Japan and Russia. No matter what you think of marine parks, I find it hard to believe even marine park enthusiasts can or would support this inarguably cruel and brutal process of procuring killer whales for family entertainment.