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Hopes Rise for Captive Russian Whales

Authorities say the belugas and orcas will eventually be transferred to a special facility. But can they survive the trip?

15 March 2019

Months after nearly 100 beluga whales and orcas were captured in the Pacific by Russian companies, their fate is still undecided.

 

The animals are being held in small pens in a bay in the Russian Far East. Animal rights activists dubbed the site a "whale jail"  after aerial footage of the whales was released in November, National Geographic writes.

 

Earlier in March, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Gordeyev said the animals would be moved to a marine mammal center on an island near Vladivostok as soon as the weather warms, Deutsche Welle reports.

 

Many of the animals were already showing signs of distress and disease two months ago, environmentalist Dmitry Lisitsyn told National Geographic. He joined a team of marine mammal researchers and veterinarians that observed the captive whales in January.

 

Orca. Image via Minette Layne/Wikimedia Commons.

 

Some of the orcas had skin lesions, possibly from exposure to cold or infections picked up in the stagnant pens, he said.

 

Regional authorities opened an investigation into the companies that captured the animals in November, and Russia’s Prosecutor General warned that selling them to aquariums in other countries would be illegal. National Geographic has reported on the trade in whales bound for Chinese aquariums.

 

Three of the four Russian firms that captured the animals said the belugas and orcas were caught legally. One company, Bely Kit, confirmed that the mammals were caught for both local and international aquariums.

 

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) brought charges against the four companies in February, according to DW.

 

"The whales are cold and because of the stress and hardship conditions [of being in the pens], their immune systems suffer and they certainly get sick," microbiologist Tatyana Denisenko told RFE/RL after examining the animals.

 

 

  • Whale specialists differ on whether the animals can survive if released into the open ocean. Ecologists have said 15 of the belugas are too young to adjust to the wild, RT reports.

 

  • Russian experts said the animals could recover once transferred to the island marine mammal center and many could then be released into the wild. Study of the animals would also inform future work with marine mammals, the White Whale Program of the Russian Academy of Sciences wrote in late February.
Compiled by Rose Joy Smith
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