Do you remember when we used to tell our friends locations to look up on Google Earth to see crazy stuff that was captured by the cameras? Now, the same thing happens with drone footage. Although it would be nice if a drone in Russia simply caught an odd-looking cat or a person walking down the street in a costume, the footage that was captured is sad rather than entertaining.

The grisly footage

A drone noticed what seemed to be boxes in the middle of a bay off the coast of Nakhodka, Russia. When they zoomed in, they noticed that over 100 whales and orca were being held captive in the humongous cages. When word spread of this strange and disturbing sight, activists traveled to the location to get a closer look.

If you’d like to see these “whale jails” for yourself, you can check out these close-up images.

What’s going on?

It didn’t take long for the authorities to get involved. Keeping such largine marine animals in crates that are barely larger than their bodies isn’t just hard to look at. It’s also extremely illegal.

It turns out that there are four different companies involved in this illegal scheme. The companies shared the expenses of the cranes, employees, tarps, water, and crates necessary to pull off this operation. They planned to sell the whales on the black market

Why is the whale trade illegal?

According to the International Whaling Convention (IWC), it is illegal worldwide to buy a whale, sale a whale, or hunt a whale for the purpose of selling it. The laws was created in the 1940s to slow down the whale trade because the whale population was dropping too fast. In the 1980s, the law was updated to put a worldwide ban on all selling and buying of whales.

Why capture whales?

These companies were reportedly going to sell the whales to Chinese aquariums. In China, aquariums are a booming business, and the ones with the largest, most exotic marine life get the most customers. One whale could sell for over $5 million. To get around the IWC, contracts for the whale sales are often written as if the whales are merely being rented.

How do they pull it off?

The companies lied to Russian conservation authorities about their purpose for keeping the whales. Under the International Whaling Convention, it is perfectly legal to capture whales for the purpose of science. Of course, even for science, there are still limits on how many whales can be taken out of the wild. Anyone who claims to be using whales for science has to prove it and get permission before they take any whales out of the ocean.

These companies had a permit to capture¬†13 orcas for stricly scientific purposes. Clearly, the companies overstepped the bounds of the permit, and they were capturing the whales to illegally sell them. Let’s hope these gentle giants get back to the ocean soon!

In other whale news, scientists have discovered an underwater ‘highway’ of mountains where hundreds of whales congregate.