Where in the World is Narnia, the Sochi Olympics Orca?

Activists have lost track of two captive killer whales slated to perform at the winter games’ opening ceremony

No one seems to know whereabouts of the two orcas, a female named Narnia and an unnamed juvenile male, that were reportedly going to perform at the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

News that the two killer whales were scheduled to turn tricks at a dolphinarium in Sochi set off a furor among animal lovers and conservationists across the world last month.  An online petition demanding that White Sphere, the Russian company organizing the orca transfer, not display the whales had 453,441 signatures at last count.

photo of an orca breaching at seaphoto by Miles Ritter on FlickrAmid international outcry against captivity sparked by documentaries like Blackfish and The Cove,
Russian companies have suddenly begun aggressively pursuing wild orcas.

Narnia and her companion were among eight orcas that animal rights activists believe were captured off the Russian coast in the Sea of Okhotsk.  The pair were last confirmed as being held in a seapen in Vladivostok, according to the Russian Orcas, a website curated by Eric Hoyt a senior researcher with Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The website reports that Narnia was kept in the facility for a year before being joined by the young male.

Last November,  a couple of tweets by a media relations official at the Vnukovo Airport near Moscow and a press release from yet another airport indicated that the pair had been transported to a newly constructed “oceanarium” in Moscow for training, and that they would later be sent to Sochi to perform at the opening ceremonies of this year’s Olympics. However, there seem to be no Russian press reports about two orcas arriving at the center, nor have there been any reports of orcas arriving in Sochi. The Russian Fisheries Agency too, has been mum on the matter.

Now rumors are surfacing that at least two of the eight captured orcas may have already been shipped to China, to be displayed at a giant new Chinese theme park called Ocean Kingdom.

“We have information from within Russia that two of them were shipped to China,” said Hoyt, told Public Radio International last week. “We have confirmation that two of them have gone to Moscow. However, none of these four [other] orcas are anywhere on display.”

If the rumors about the sale of orcas to China turn out to be true, it would be the first international sale of orcas since 1991. All these rumors and no statement on the matter from the Russian authorities have left activists confused. “The Russian government is among the most secretive in the world it’s going to be hard to get any real information from them,” says Mark Berman, associate director at Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project.

Sadly, the captive orcas are probably more lost and confused than any human, given that they were removed from the ocean, transported on flatbed trucks, flown through the air and kept in confines. It is difficult to fathom the tremendous emotional suffering they are likely enduring, all for the sake of human entertainment.

Because cetaceans are still considered property and natural resources, their suffering will continue to be discounted by those who make profits off of their lives. Should cetaceans one day be considered nonhuman persons, as Dolphin Project and other organizations are advocating, it could become illegal to capture or confine orcas for any reason – Olympic entertainment included.

Cetaceans meet many, if not all, of the criteria to be considered nonhuman persons, as documented through scientific and anecdotal evidence. An interesting anecdote comes from Hoyt’s site: Narnia reportedly compelled newly-caught inmates in her seapen to eat when they refused for many days. From the website:

“The three captives were reportedly in a very bad condition after the transport. They refused to eat. The trainers could do nothing. Finally, we’ve heard, that Narnia herself tried something. She brought fish to the three captives and gave it to them. In this way she was responsible for persuading them to eat.”

Starvation is a common psychological reaction among whales  and dolphins when they are captured., sometimes leading to death. While Narnia’s motivations and methods will never be totally clear to us, we can assume that she felt empathy for her fellow whales and that she communicated complex ideas to convince them to eat again. She somehow compelled them to continue living, to not give up in the face of such adversity.

Fortunately for exploitative companies such as White Sphere, cetaceans remain units of property to use and abuse. White Sphere, which is actually a consortium of several Russian companies, is behind what appears to be a budding cetacean captivity industry in Russia. Courtney Vail of Whale and Dolphin Conservation reports that the Russian government allocates an annual quota of ten orcas for capture each year. After nearly a decade of unfilled quotas, and amid international outcry against captivity sparked by documentaries like Blackfish and The Cove, White Sphere has suddenly begun aggressively pursuing wild orcas. The consortium is behind major aquaria construction projects, including the Sochi aquarium itself.

In the past two years Russia has also been importing dolphins from the brutal drive hunts in Japan.. One of these dolphins may be chosen to drag an athlete carrying the Olympic flame through a pool later today.

While we do not know exactly where Narnia and the rest of the orcas are we can safely assume that they is not back in the ocean with their kin. If White Sphere continues to have its way, a whole new generation of orcas will likewise be stolen from the sea.

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