Earth Island Institute logo, tap or click to visit the Institute home page

Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Latest News > Post and Comments

Latest News

Chinese Company Seeks to Capture Orcas and Hundreds of Marine Mammals in Namibia

Proposal points to troubling explosion in captive animal entertainment in the country

When it comes to wildlife trade and trafficking, sadly, way too many roads lead to China. Usually, it’s the demand for animal parts to be used in traditional Chinese medicine that spurs this trade, but now there’s growing demand for live animals, especially marine mammals, for the country’s exploding theme park industry.

photo of orca in the oceanPhoto by Miles Ritter China currently has 39 marine parks of various sizes. Another 14 such facilities are under construction.

Late last month, it was revealed that the Namibian Fisheries Ministry was considering a proposal by a Chinese-owned company, Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research, requesting the capture and export of endangered dolphins, orcas, and other marine mammals animals to China for “breeding purposes.” (The company appears to be registered in Namibia but is owned by a Chinese businessman.)

According to a report in the daily The Namibian, the list of the company’s demands includes 10 orcas (killer whales); 500 to 1,000 Cape fur seals; 300-500 African penguins; 50 to 100 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins; 50 to 100 common bottlenose dolphins; and various sharks.

The company has offered 300 million Nigerian dollars (about US $95,000) for the deal, claiming the export is important for the protection and management of these marine resources, while admitting at the same time that the market in China for these marine mammals is “enormous.” It also says it will strictly abide by international and Namibian laws and regulations in managing the marine species.

However, several of these species, such as orcas, are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), making it illegal for any entity to capture and export them.

The request points to the deeply troubling explosion in the demand for captive animal entertainment in China, despite a growing understanding of the physical and psychological harm that captivity causes for all species. The country currently has 39 marine parks of various sizes, from massive 326-acre facilities like Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Guangdong province to tiny tanks in shopping malls that barely leave any space for the animals to move around. Another 14 such facilities are under construction.

China now represents the fastest-growing market for live cetaceans on the planet.

According to a report by the China Cetacean Alliance, a coalition of international animal protection and conservation organizations, these parks hold captive at least 491 cetaceans, representing 11 species, including seven species of dolphins, beluga whales, short- finned pilot whales, and narrow-ridged finless porpoises. (Bottlenose dolphins and beluga whales are the most commonly held species.)

photo of San Bruno DunesPhoto courtesy of Allgemeine Zeitung A Russian vessel, the Ryazanovka, known to have been involved in the controversial capture of orcas in the Sea of Okhotsk in eastern Russia, has been has been docked at the Namibian port town of Walvis Bay since August.

Welwitschia’s proposal, according to documents seen by The Namibian, disingenuously implies that the country’s fish catches have declined because of a recent increase in dolphin, whale, and seal populations in the area, and that Welwitschia’s scientific project would help Namibia understand how these marine mammals were impacting local fisheries.

If that wasn’t surreal enough, Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization, a conservation group working on this issue on the ground in Namibia, points out some of the marine animals requested by Welwitschia do not even exist in Namibian waters. And the country’s fisheries ministry says even the species that do exist in the region do not exist in the numbers requested by the company.

Even more disturbing is the fact that the company seems to have come prepared to capture at least some of these animals. A Russian vessel, the Ryazanovka, manned by a Chinese crew, has been docked at the Namibian port town of Walvis Bay since August. Ryazanovka is known to have been involved in the controversial capture of orcas in the Sea of Okhotsk in eastern Russia some years ago. Conservation groups say those orcas were almost certainly transferred to China, where they have been kept in hiding since. (Since the capture of killer whales has been banned in most parts of the world where they live, Russia’s Pacific coast is now one of the last remaining legal orca-hunting areas.)

The Chinese are also leveraging themselves by negotiating military bases in Namibia. Negotiations for one such proposed military base started with Namibia during 2014, Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal project points out.

“Granting this permit would be catastrophic for orcas and other dolphins,” says IMMP director Dave Phillips. “These blood dolphin traders leave a trail of death and depletion. The orcas and dolphins they capture face inhumane treatment and shortened lives in concrete tanks.”

Should it be approved, the proposal would have a devastating effect — not only for the captured individuals, but potentially for the Namibian marine ecosystem as well.

Time is off the essence here. The Namibian government is still undecided as to whether it will allow the captures to move forward and has indicated that it will make a decision in this regard within a few days. IMMP and other conservation groups are calling on individuals and organizations to sign this petition urging the Namibian government to reject this massive trafficking scheme.

Maureen Nandini Mitra, Editor, Earth Island Journal.Maureen Nandini Mitra photo
In addition to her work at the Journal, Maureen writes for several other magazines and online publications in the US and India. A journalism graduate from Columbia University, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Public Press, The New Internationalist, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, The Caravan and Down to Earth.

Email this post to a friend.

Write to the editor about this post.

Subscribe Today
cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJFour issues of the award-winning
Earth Island Journal for only $15



They won’t last long. One day they will have to give answers to the Creator Himself!
Don’t even have shame to see around them when looking at the poor people living in shacks in Namibia… What a disgrace. The rulers dismally failed to lift up to the expectations of the people they govern.

By charles rhoman on Mon, November 27, 2017 at 10:23 pm

This is a no brainer!
No government has the right to authorize such an undertaking. Irrespective of pay back.

By Peter Zimmermann on Thu, December 01, 2016 at 1:09 pm

Please respect these the Oceans Wildlife! They are not here on earth for our entertainment nor our food. They are here on earth for their own reasons, to live harmoniously in the ocean and in the wild and support the ocean and environment. Please show respect and understanding for our oceans wildlife and do not exploit them!

By Jill Callahan on Sat, November 19, 2016 at 10:42 pm

They firstly do not abide by South African coastal laws. (we are south of Namibia) So why on earth would they do so in Namibian waters. A giant foot in the door, is more like it.

By Ayla on Sat, November 12, 2016 at 3:58 am

How Ghastly! Please don’t let this happen, what can we do?

By Roberts Sue on Mon, November 07, 2016 at 7:15 pm

The world is watching and will not have patience with countries that do this. Namibia and China are both stealing the planet’s animals, not theirs. They deserve the highest sanctions and should feel shame for their actions. Despicable.

By Natalie Gray on Sat, October 22, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Stop this it is wrong killing and stealing from the ocean you have no right

By Hazel Keith on Tue, October 18, 2016 at 12:05 pm

The west has finally realised that this practice is abhorrent to most people, and waterparks are phasing out the capture and training of live sea animals.  Please, please DO NOT let China do what we know to be wrong.

By Maria Jennings on Tue, October 18, 2016 at 7:19 am

I am 110% against the Chinese being involved in the desecration of any marine mammal life, especially in foreign waters. The Namibian government need to take careful consideration of their decisions. These people are plunderers of world resources !!!


By M.Cumming on Tue, October 18, 2016 at 3:43 am

This practice of hunting orcas, Dolphins etc for sea creatures to be enslaved, die and replaced is seriously insane. Countries have had ample time to enable their mammals to breed. Yet thy are only dying and need to be replaced. It’s obvious they can not manage their business and expecially are not capable of caring for wild animals/creatures/mammals this is why there are zoos who specialise in helping other zoos. If these circuses need to pull out the teeth of wild mammals , then they should not have Gods creatures in their care.  These mammals have long time soul mates . These mammals who have lost their soulmate will die. This is why China does not have international zoos! They are not capable of caring for exotic creatures.

By Violet on Mon, October 17, 2016 at 11:07 pm

These are all Gods creatures which are rapidly disappearing. Supertrawlers are the reason why there’s no smaller fish in oceans. We are currently suffering the devastating effects of trawlers here in Australia. From fishing family’s to commercial fishing. Taking out these creatures lessens the chances of recovery. God only supplies what is able to be handled. Those who hunt with greed and overfish should have boats and licences taken away from them. It’s the irresponsible commercial fishing which displaces everyone. Fishing can no longer even be a sport in Australia as too much has been taken by the Dutch Super-Trawler.

By Violet on Mon, October 17, 2016 at 10:57 pm

The depletion of fish is because the sea has been overfished and around 300 thousand small whales and dolphins are killed in the nets each year, China has no right to take animals from your water, whykill has China done this do not any whales or dolphins live in Chinese waters have they killed every dolphin and whale and sea lions in thete own waters, and the money being offered is a joke for enslaving wild animals in an overpopulated world, please leave the animals in the sea

By Gary hayward wrote on Mon, October 17, 2016 at 10:12 pm

Haven’t the chinese destroyed enough of the earth. Now they want destroy the oceans. The whales are beautiful creatures. They sing songs to each other.
How would you like to be ripped from yoir home and family.
Oops I forgot their already doing that in Tibet.

By Pamela Burridge on Mon, October 17, 2016 at 2:20 pm


By Eleonor on Mon, October 17, 2016 at 5:34 am


By Anastasia Dunn on Mon, October 17, 2016 at 5:02 am


By MAFALDA AGUILAR on Mon, October 17, 2016 at 3:08 am

These Orcas, other whales and sea life belong in the sea, alive.  The don’t belong in tanks, used for entertainments or any other means.  They were born in the sea and are meant to LIVE in the sea. Please leave them alone and let them live the life they were meant to live, free and in the open sea.

By Martha Brown on Sun, October 16, 2016 at 5:18 am

Please dont sell these free animals.

By L A Kloosterman on Sun, October 16, 2016 at 3:38 am

Respect and care, leave them alone!

By Debbie Falchi on Sun, October 16, 2016 at 3:18 am

Leave a comment

Comments Policy

Remember my personal information?

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

View Posts by Date View Posts by Author


Four issues for just
$15 a year.

cover thumbnail EIJ

Join Now!

San Francisco Green Film Festival