The Far East Russia Orca Project
The Far East Russia Orca Project (FEROP) was borne out of a meeting between WDCS’s Senior Research Fellow, Erich Hoyt, and other orca scientists who recognised the need to establish a pioneering research project focussing on a population of orcas in Kamchatka that had never before been studied.
Read Erich's blog about the discovery of a white orca, known as "Iceberg".
In 1999 WDCS adopted FEROP as its flagship Russian research and conservation project. Its key goals of empowering local Russian biologists, halting the Russian role in global trade in captive orcas (at that time expanding) and implementing conservation and protection measures, all matched WDCS’ long term objectives.
To date the project has collected some 1000 photo-IDs of individual orcas and valuable acoustic data demonstrating that Russian orcas live in a number of strongly-bonded family groups, with both resident fish-eating and transient marine mammal communities, and communicate using their own dialects as do the orcas in Canada which include WDCS’s Adopt An Orca community. The dedicated work of the Russian research team has been recognised with the award of more than a dozen PhDs and Masters’ degrees through Russian universities.
Perhaps the most pressing issue that FEROP addresses is the unwanted attention from the aquarium industry that Russian orcas continue to attract. Orcas in captivity are big business and marine park owners, keen to expand the number of captive animals, are looking to the waters of the Russian Far East for new blood. Starting in 2001, the Russian authorities have granted capture permits allowing wild orcas to be taken for marine aquariums. Sadly, this has resulted in at least two orca deaths to date – one died in a holding facility soon after capture and another drowned in the nets. Orcas captured in the wild come with a payoff of up to $1 million each and are, therefore, a lucrative proposition for Russian captors. FEROP, supported by WDCS, has been spearheading a campaign to keep these orcas where they belong – in the wild. There has only been one ‘successful’ capture since the two deaths in 2003; that was in 2010 and the female orca fortunately escaped from the nets.
FEROP’s ongoing work is essential to protect this small, relatively unexploited population that researchers still know so little about. Overfishing continues to be a problem and intensive oil and gas exploration is due to begin this year. The dedicated research team, with the support of WDCS, continue to amass detailed information on these charismatic animals with the ultimate aim of safeguarding them from future captures and environmental threats.
Learn more about the Project and watch the field work of FEROP in 2 parts.