March 16, 2021

Draining the Tanks


Draining the Tanks
At St. Petersburg's pool – ahem, dolphinarium – visitors can get a picture with a beluga or dolphin for only 300-500 rubles ($4-$7). Amanda Shirnina

The marine mammal display industry has been booming in post-Soviet Russia, catching up to the American model just in time for the U.S. to drop it. But the State Duma is now expected to put an end to the practice.

A recent article entitled "Don't Catch Willy" — a reference to the 1993 film Free Willy — reports that the Duma is considering a bill to ban the wild capture of whales, dolphins, and seals. The bill is expected to pass and would also impact Moskvarium.

Svetlana Bessarab, Duma deputy, writes that some of the hunting scenarios are "absurd: the dolphinarium orders the poacher to catch the animal, state authorities seize the animal, and then they transfer the animal to the dolphinarium that had ordered it, for safekeeping."

It is already the case that marine mammals cannot be hunted in Russia for other than scientific purposes. But it is obviously easy for dolphinaria and oceanaria to sport an educational mission statement while operating primarily for entertainment and profit. Each animal caught in the ocean sells for about $2 million, making it a lucrative business.

Russia remains one of the most prolific collectors of marine mammals in the world. If the bill passes, it will also cut off another market: China buys about 100 marine mammals per year from Russian hunters for entertainment purposes.

The report argues that some animals live in simple "cisterns." Mobile dolphinaria, which were popular before the pandemic, are especially damaging to marine mammals and have already been banned in 17 countries.

As at SeaWorld, this legislation would allow animals already enclosed to stay in place until death but not be replaced, thus eventually leading to the eventual closure of dolphinaria and other marine mammal display facilities.

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