Recent drone footage reveals around 100 whales trapped inside small enclosures off Russia's Pacific coast, near the southeastern city of Nakhodka.
Activists claim that this "whale jail" kept 11 orcas and 90 beluga whales illegally. According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation reports, this is the largest number of marine animals found in captivity.
The investigations lead to knowing the reasons behind this illegal activity found that these whales were caught and kept for commercial purposes. The species were intended to be sold off to Chinese ocean theme parks at a high price.
Ocean theme parks are a fast-growing industry in China. There are over 60 marine parks in China, and about a dozen are under construction.
An Orca whale can fetch more than $6 million in biding price in the booming ocean theme park industry.
According to international law, whales can only be captured for scientific and educational—and in some cases, for food purposes.
The operation of buying and selling cetaceans for entertainment is strictly illegal, but the law is routinely ignored as companies claim it's for scientific and educational purposes.
The company that captured these 100 whales also claimed that the cetaceans were caught for scientific and educational purposes.
But after lawyers examined the conditions the species were kept in, it was depicted as "torture" by Greenpeace Russia. Experts warn that this illegal capture of whales is harmful to the future of the species.
Greenpeace Russia research coordinator Oganes Targulyan said that the risk of losing the entire orca population is increased by catching them at this "tempo."
While the current capture quota is 13 orca whales annually, the coordinator expressed concerns that no one is taking into account that "at least one orca is killed for everyone that's caught."
The fate of orca whales is unclear. However, the Russian prosecutors are investigating the capture and export of the animals by four companies, identified by Novaya Gazeta as LLC Oceanarium DV, LLC Afalina, LLC Bely Kit, and LLC Sochi Dolphinarium.
With their striking black and white markings and prevalence at marine parks, orca whales, also known as 'killer whales' or Orcinus orca, are probably among the most easily recognized cetacean species.
The largest dolphin species, orcas, live in oceans and seas around the world and can grow to 32 feet long and weigh up to six tons.
The name 'killer whale' originated with whalers. They called the species "whale killer" because it tended to prey on other whales along with other marine species such as pinnipeds and fish.