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article imageOp-Ed: Sochi to display captured orcas during Winter Olympic Games

By Elizabeth Batt     Nov 30, 2013 in Environment
Sochi - As the Russian city of Sochi gears up for the 2014 Winter Olympics, two killer whales recently captured from the wild in the Russian Far East will debut in Sochi for the Olympic Games along with a dolphin torchbearer.
In the meantime, the IOC seems intent on ignoring its own Environmental Mandate which lists conservation as one of its top three priorities.
In the United Nations "Sustainability Through Sport: Implementing the Olympic Movement's Agenda 21," Sochi, the IOC, and conservation, appear to form an idealistic trifecta.
Agenda 21 insists the games will be conducted, "with the preservation of the natural environment in mind," and strongly suggests that "all upcoming Olympic developments, will be carried out with a commitment to environmental consciousness and sustainability."
These platitudes certainly hit the right key, but the mandate's verbiage is made redundant by the IOC's actions, or lack thereof.
103-page document. Words! Words! Words! I'm so sick of words!
In this IOC factsheet about environmental and sustainable development, the fallacy yet continues. Adamant that these are the games that "respect the environment," associations and partnerships reveal otherwise.
The Olympic Movement's Agenda 21 report for example, was published with the support of Shell International. A company that just this year, was held responsible for the environmental pollution of farmlands in Nigeria.
While Shell's sponsorship of the report can be seen as little more than a PR stunt, the company over the past six years has spent approximately $4.5 billion on permits, equipment and a campaign to explore the Arctic for oil. [The New York Times].
Pál Schmitt, a former Hungarian fencer and current IOC member, gave credit to Shell for their support of the charter. It was a mutual high-five moment hardly worthy of an endorsement. Schmitt, the former Hungarian President, was forced to resign his Presidency over a plagiarism scandal. Budapest's Semmelweis University, finally stripped him of his doctorate.
When it comes to 'fair play', another attribute of the games highly touted by the IOC, the organization faces its own issues. From the choosing of its host cities to corruption in ticket sales, the Olympic Committee has a controversial history.
Some of these less-than-honorable scandals were covered recently in The Daily Beast. From prostitutes to paid vacations, the Olympic Charter clearly states:
The IOC may accept gifts and bequests and seek all other resources enabling it to fulfill its tasks.
Debt, deals and dosh
Earlier this year, Digital Journal reported that Vladimir Putin made a special trip to Guatemala back in 2007. The purpose of the trip the article said, was "to seal the deal with the IOC." Russia promised $12 billion host the games. Games that Putin told the IOC, would be both "green" and "safe."
The United Nation's Agenda 21 stipulates that all host cities should be aware of their environmental responsibilities. "Respect," it states, "applies equally to people as well as the environment and its natural systems." Furthermore, it adds, the Olympic Games must be held in the hopes of prompting visitors to "change their attitudes and actively adapt their lives in favor of sustainability and the environment."
Russia and the environment
Prince Albert II of Monaco and Vladimir Putin with the Olympic Torch (Sochi 2014). A future torchbea...
Prince Albert II of Monaco and Vladimir Putin with the Olympic Torch (Sochi 2014). A future torchbearer will be a Black Sea endangered bottlenose dolphin captured in the wild.
Presidential Press and Information Office
image:162661:1::0
Environmentally speaking, Russia is an epic failure. According to Forbes, "Russia relies heavily on its energy sector for economic growth." Meanwhile, The Wilson Center adds, "the Russian government is doing little to address environmental problems."
From pollution to declining biodiversity, Russia's reliance on energy is as ardent as its environmental interests and protections are limited. Basically, if the country can exploit its environment for profit, it will do so.
Russia for example, currently leads the way in wild beluga whale captures. According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Russia's annual quota for the capture and export of these white whales tops 1,000 animals per year. "At least 320 were exported from Russia to overseas aquaria between 1990 and 2012," claims WDC.
More than 100 belugas have been sent to China in the last decade
The controversy of the ongoing captures for aquaria is far reaching. Last year, it reached US shores when a conglomerate of US aquariums headed by Georgia Aquarium applied for a permit to import 18 wild-caught belugas from Russia. The animals were to have been dispersed across several sea parks from SeaWorld to the Georgia Aquarium itself.
The public outcry was palpable and underestimated, but it was NOAA Fisheries who had the final say. Denying the permit for importation, the Fisheries Department said that it could not determine "whether or not the proposed importation, by itself or in combination with other activities, would have a significant adverse impact on the Sakhalin-Amur beluga whale stock, the population that these whales are taken from."
Exploitation not limited to belugas
Last October, Russia announced it would use a wild-caught Black Sea bottlenose dolphin as a torchbearer in the leadup to the Olympic Games. Black Sea bottlenose dolphins are listed as "endangered" on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species.
The reason they are endangered is because of captures. According to the IUCN:
Hundreds and probably 1,000 bottlenose dolphins have been live-captured in the Black Sea for captivity since the mid 1960s. This does not account for mortality (usually unreported) during capture operations. Live-captures continue in the Russian Federation, with 10-20 animals taken annually from a small area.
For Sochi 2014, Russia hit yet a new low.
Today, two recently captured killer whales will arrive at the Sochi Dolphinarium from Vladivostok to prepare for the Olympic Games. According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC):
These will be the first orcas ever displayed in public in Russia and the dolphinarium will be hoping to make money during the Olympics by holding them captive.
These orcas are two of several killer whales taken from the wild by a Russian company called White Sphere. White Sphere coincidentally, is a partner of the US-based, International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).
During the Russian Federation's attempt to catch killer whales over the years, several animals have been killed. The entire sordid history of the captures is revealed by WDC in an interview between Tim Zimmermann and Erich Hoyt, WDC Research Fellow, Author, and Co-director of WDC’s Far East Russia Orca Project.
The Olympic Charter maintains that the responsibility of host cities, is:
To encourage and support a responsible concern for environmental issues, to promote sustainable development in sport and to require that the Olympic Games are held accordingly.
Not an obscure statement by any means, but give the IOC's initial reluctance to address Russia's anti-gay laws, it should come as no surprise. The IOC finally met with LGBT sports groups today, after Russia's ban on "gay propaganda" openly flouted another IOC mantra, that of tolerance and equality for all.
Public outcry
The Global Olympic Dolphins Campaign has been tackling the IOC over its conservation charter since February. In a series of letters sent to the committee, the campaign asked the IOC not to award the 2020 Olympic Games to Tokyo based on their whaling practices, which virtually go unchecked.
In a letter to the IOC last March, the campaign said:
The IOC, in consideration of choosing what country gets the honor of hosting the Olympic games, cannot overlook Japan deliberately defying an environmental charter.
But the IOC passed the buck. They responded:
It is not our place to monitor or measure animal rights or pressure governments to enact social, political or other kinds of change that are not directly linked to hosting the Olympic Games.
Animal rights, or a simple request for the IOC to enforce its own charter for the promotion of conservation? Even Schmitt clarified, "no initiative, however small, should be neglected. Indeed, we should 'Think globally, act locally.'"
The IOC is presented with the perfect opportunity to 'act locally' and to stand behind its repetitious 103-page conservation-touting mandate. Currently, Russia is not in compliance with either Agenda 21 or the Olympic Charter.
As a result, the Olympic Dolphin campaign is asking the IOC to hold Sochi to task and to enforce its own rules. It is the "IOC's duty" they say, "to uphold the Olympic Charter rules and ensure that Olympic Host cities comply with the United Nation's Agenda 21 document."
Global Olympic Dolphins Campaign is petitioning the IOC's Thomas Bach along with the Sochi Olympic Organising Committee to stop the Sochi 2014 wild orca display. The petition is available to sign at Causes.com.
By employing an endangered dolphin as a torchbearer and newly captured orcas to entertain the public, how much more 'directly linked' to the Olympic Games and the IOC's conservation charter can Sochi be?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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