Russian officials have invited a French ocean explorer to offer advice on how to safely release nearly 100 illegally captured whales, voicing hope that the animals could be let into the wild during summer.
Jean-Michel Cousteau of the Ocean Futures Society arrived in Russia’s Far East on Friday on a mission to inspect the mammals near the port of Nakhodka and help create conditions for them to be released.
Mr Cousteau, son of famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, has voiced concern about the animals’ condition and offered his help to the Russian government.
The whales’ condition has drawn international concern, and President Vladimir Putin has ordered authorities to investigate the case and release the animals.
Prosecutors have brought criminal charges against four companies keeping the whales.
Whales are worth a fortune on the black market, and local environmental activists suspected they were captured for sale to amusements parks in China.
Russian law only allows for the capture of whales for “scientific” purposes.
Regional governor Oleg Kozhemyako met Mr Cousteau in Vladivostok, and said he hopes his experience will help “get a full picture on how to allow the animals to readapt to living in the wild”.
Before flying to the Far East, Mr Cousteau also met natural resources minister Dmitry Kobylkin in Moscow.
About the "whale jail." Second in a series of posts about more than 10 orcas and 87 beluga whales being held in small, crowded pens on Russia’s far east coast. Background to our efforts there. https://t.co/9hmzv1J6hT— Whale_Sanctuary (@Whale_Sanctuary) March 23, 2019
Mr Kobylkin said summer offers the most favourable conditions for releasing the 97 belugas and orcas.
“We couldn’t release the animals in the winter, it would have simply killed them,” he said. “We can and must do this work in the coming summer.”
He emphasised that Russia would like to rely on international expertise to ensure the safe release of the mammals.
“We want to do it as openly as possible,” he added.
Russian scientists estimate that the rehabilitation effort will cost about 300 million rubles (£3.5 million).
Activists raised the alarm late last autumn when 101 belugas and orcas were captured and placed in a marine containment facility that environmentalists have dubbed a “whale prison” near Nakhodka.
Local prosecutors have said several of the whales have escaped, but environmentalists said four are likely to have died because of cramped conditions and low temperatures.
- Press Association