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Pioneering Far East aquarium hit by allegations of shocking conditions

By Anna Liesowska
12 February 2015

Marine life dying, pools polluted, power outages, no medicines for animals, and two years late, but officials say there is no cause for concern.

Directors confirmed that six animals – a walrus, sea otter, dolphin, white whale and two Baikal seals - have died over the past three years of construction and apologised. Picture: Primorsky Aquarium

Directors of the new Far East aquarium set to be one of the largest and most anticipated in the world have denied allegations of keeping animals in improper conditions.

A group of anonymous employees at $267.7 million Primorsky Aquarium have gone public with claims about the alleged sub-standard quality of the park, which is still under construction.

Among the allegations put forward by the unnamed members of staff are claims that:

·         Six animals have died, including a dolphin and Baikal seals;

·         Pools have been overtaken by serious bacterial infections;

·         Drunk people have jumped into the tanks for fun and distressed animals;

·         A nine-hour power cut resulted in the deaths of fish;

·         There are not sufficient medicines to tend to the wildlife.

Located on Russky Island, in Vladivostok, the purpose-built facility is set to feature exhibits, educational programs, marine mammal shows, beautiful parks and waterfalls, shops and cafes, as well as research laboratories.

It is being viewed as the jewel in the crown of Russia’s marine facilities, but has been hit by construction delays, with the original opening date of September 2012 having long past.

Now there are claims about impropriety, with a petition addressed to President Vladimir Putin protesting about the conditions gathering more than 2,000 names in just four days.

Primorsky Aquarium


Primorsky Aquarium


Primorsky Aquarium

Located on Russky Island, in Vladivostok, the purpose-built facility is set to feature exhibits, educational programs, marine mammal shows, beautiful parks and waterfalls, shops and cafes, as well as research laboratories. Picture: Primorsky Aquarium

In a letter to a newspaper in Vladivostok, staff from the scientific department at the aquarium said the facility is already 'dying' despite not yet even being open.

The source said: 'The pools with the marine mammals are full of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. The concentration of bacteria is a hundred times higher than the maximum permissible concentration. Sometimes divers refuse to dive there. For example, microbiologist came to them and said, 'Guys, I would not recommend you go down there today'.

'Life support systems are very complex but technicians who are engaged in the maintenance already do not care. The water is drawn from the sea and the filters can be often switched off. 

'Scientists wonder that the fish and marine mammals are still alive. Acid has also entered the pool with the dolphins and the staff thought that dolphins could die, but they survived.

'We have no medicines for the animals and fish, and there are no disinfecting preparations for diving equipment. Instead of several sets of equipment we have only one that spreads the infection and pollutants from the sea into the pool.'

The source added: 'Our oceanarium is at an amateur level and at public expense.'

The Environmental Prosecutor's Office was alerted by the whistle-blower's letter, but chose not to investigate following reassurances from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Primorsky Aquarium


Primorsky Aquarium


Primorsky Aquarium

It is being viewed as the jewel in the crown of Russia’s marine facilities, but has been hit by construction delays, with the original opening date of September 2012 having long past. Pictures: Skyscrapercity.ru, PrimaMedia

Directors confirmed that six animals – a walrus, sea otter, dolphin, white whale and two Baikal seals - have died over the past three years of construction and apologised, saying that they were in tanks not designed to house them.

They also blamed teething problems for the high bacterial levels and power cuts, but insisted that experts have been brought in to monitor the situation.

Dr Vadim Serkov, the deputy director of the aquarium, also apologised for the length of time it has taken to build the much-anticipated facility.

He said: 'Regarding the deaths of animals, in three years we have lost six of them. This is directly related to the fact that the scientific facility, where we placed the marine mammals, was built not for them, but for the fish. These pools were not designed for marine animals, but they are living there still, and are growing. We can’t just throw them away, on the street.

'We are very attentive to the training of veterinarians. Recently, they have been trained abroad. We have hired a microbiologist who checks the quality of the water. Yes, the water was not very good and we found Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. We banned divers and trainers from going into the pools, then cleaned the water.

'After that a triple examination carried out by an accredited organization showed an absence of bacteria.'

Primorsky Aquarium

Russian President feeds the walrus Tora during his visit in 2013. Sadly, Tora has died recently. Picture: Kremlin.ru

Among the other allegations made in the anonymous letter was that one of the senior construction workers brought his friends to the site and allowed them to jump into the pools beside the animals after having been drinking.

The letter alleged that after the incident 'one of the dolphins caught pneumonia and died'. But officials at the Russian Academy of Science insist that the facts have been 'distorted and put upside down'.

Andrey Adrianov, the director of the Institute of Marine Biology at the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Science, said: 'Why has this been happening? Unfortunately it is all because of the delay in construction and there were instance of power failures.

'The scientific facility is located, in fact, on a construction site. Nevertheless, very good conditions were created for the sea animals and if you take a sample of water there, you will see that it is normal water, with the right composition.'

Mr Adrianov also stressed that in the case of the white whale's death, it was later found to have been suffering from a congenital lung defect and had been well looked after. He even insisted that as a result of its good care it had 'lived longer than it could have in a natural environment'.

The new Primorsky Aquarium, which was visited by Mr Putin in September 2013, is no stranger to controversy. In November last year it was at the centre of allegation that two billion roubles ($30million) was embezzled from budget funds by one of the contractors.

At the same time it was revealed that the man responsible for building the facility – Andrey Poplavskiy, the director of the Management of Construction in the Far East – stole 40 million roubles ($609,000).

Comments (1)

this really saddens me to hear about this do what is right and that is to let them go they are not made to be in tanks or to entertain people god put them here for a purpose and the world is watching and listening so therefore in your best interest do what is right stop the lies and pointing fingers these guys you have in captivity did not ask you to kill them or disrupt their lives and families and would you feel if this was done to you not a good feeling so i hope and pray that you and your country does the right thing so that all other countries can follow and see what is best please set them free please
a concerned lover for the all creatures, usa
14/02/2015 00:37
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