WDCS has just received news of the capture of a female killer whale, or orca ­ the first known capture from a population living in one of the remotest regions on Earth.

The 5-metre female was captured on Friday, September 26th, 2003, in Avacha Gulf, Kamchatka, Eastern Russia, by captors working for the Utrish Aquarium on the Black Sea. The following day, she was transferred to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky where she is currently being held in a sea pen in the bay, but the indications are that the female will shortly be moved to the Utrish Aquarium, reportedly for "research" purposes. WDCS has long feared that such a capture would take place. For the past three years - despite strong representations from WDCS and orca scientists and experts all over the world - the Russian authorities have issued capture permits, although previous capture attempts have been unsuccessful. This year, the captors have permits to capture up to 10 orcas (4 from the Kamchatka region, the remaining 6 in Sakhalin and Ohkotsk districts) and they are expected to continue trying to catch more orcas throughout October.

WDCS has a special interest in the orcas of Kamchatka. Since 1999, WDCS has funded the Far Eastern Russia Orca Project (FEROP), a long-term Russian-Japanese-British initiative. Breathing life into what was a previously unstudied population, this pioneering project has used photo- identification techniques to reveal the presence of at least 151 orcas resident in the main study area of Avacha Bay - sadly now also a capture site. Acoustic analysis has enabled valuable comparison of call types, variations and use, helping to establish kinship among local pods and communities.

All the findings to date ­ on the orcas? diet, foraging and socialising behaviour, as well as their communication - suggest that these orcas are a largely ?resident? population, comparable to those resident off British Columbia, Canada, and Washington State, USA, and likely possessing the same strong social bonds.

In 2001, a letter signed by more than 25 international orca scientists was presented to the Russian authorities asking them not to allow any orcas to be captured in Russian waters. The letter warned of the possible consequences of taking individuals from populations about which very little is known and for which any removals would have seriously negative implications.

In addition, there is no previous experience of capturing and keeping orcas in Russia. Any animals targeted are likely to suffer greatly from stress and potential harm during the capture itself and during the subsequent ordeal of long-distance transportation to the final captive facility. Those animals remaining in the pod are also likely to be traumatised by the capture process. The long-term danger is that Russian waters will become a regular source of orcas for the captivity industry, with disastrous consequences for the individuals and populations targeted.