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Rambler's Top100
FAR EAST RUSSIA ORCA PROJECT  
Killer whales are traditionally considered to be not only one of the most clever and beautiful sea creatures, but also one of the most agressive. They have a reputation as a cruel predator, exterminating seals and whales. But at the same time people would be delighted by these charismatic beasts while seing them in an oceanarium or - much better - in nature. Orcas conquer the hearts not only of the publics who meet them by chance, but also of their researchers. Their complicated behavior, sophisticated social structure and special vocalizations with a system of dialects unique for each group make orcas one of the most interesting research objects. Orcas live in most seas from the Arctic to Antarctic, but in Russia they are studied to date only in one place - Kamchatka.
Our project was planned, elaborated and embodied by three parents: the chief of the Laboratory of Animal Ecology, Kamchatka Institute of Ecology and Nature Management Dr. Alexander Burdin, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society Senior Research Fellow Erich Hoyt and Japanese investigator Haruko Sato. In 1999 A.Burdin and H.Sato for the first time went by the boat to the Avacha Gulf with cameras and a solid resolution to find and photograph orcas. Since that time our project has grown and developed, we have involved new people and obtained useful results.
Our orcas are now endangered. In recent years, Japanese and other aquariums have taken an interest in obtaining Russian orcas, due to the proximity of the orcas in waters due north of Japan, as well as the lack of protection for orcas in these waters. As has been shown in the Northwest US and Canada, population estimates for orcas before photo-ID research have always been much larger (3-5 times larger around Vancouver Island), while actual numbers through photo-ID prove to be far less. That and the peculiar biology of orcas - with the long-lived social pods, and "populations" generally numbering from fewer than 100 to no more than 600 individuals throughout the eastern North Pacific - are strong arguments against capturing them for aquariums. Yet quotas to capture orcas have been set every year since 2001 and two females were removed from the population (both died: one in the capture nets and one 13 days after transfer to the Utrish Dolphinarium) in September 2003.
There is still much to learn in order to understand the RFE orca populations and we hope that our study will help to save them from capturing.
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