6 Jun 2019 14:22

Ocras, belugas to be released from 'whale jail', location yet to be chosen - Kobylkin

ST. PETERSBURG. June 6 (Interfax) - Russian Natural Resources and Ecology Minister Dmitry Kobylkin has said he has no doubt that orcas and beluga whales will be released from the "whale jail" in Srednyaya Bay in the Primorye Territory.

"The court has a right to make such decisions. We have a roadmap, and we are acting consistent with it. There is no doubt they will be released. A decision is being made on where they will be set free," Kobylkin told Interfax on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) on Thursday.

The Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk City Court partially upheld the claim of animal rights activists for releasing the orcas and belugas from the "whale jail" in the Primorye Territory but noted that the animals had been harvested on lawful grounds and could not be taken from the harvesters without reimbursement.

The claimant's lawyer Natalia Lisitsyna told Interfax that the court had proclaimed the Federal Agency for Fisheries' quota for harvesting orcas and belugas unlawful but declined to compel the Federal Service for Supervision in the Use of Natural Resources to seize the animals from illegal ownership and to release them into the wild.

An ad hoc working group met at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution in May to discuss plans for the sea mammals' adaptation. The meeting was attended by scientists of RAS institutes, the Education and Science Ministry, and the Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO), members of oceanographic explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau's team, and representatives of civil organizations.

The group recommended that the orcas be released in the Shantarsky area of the Sea of Okhotsk in July-September of this year. It said too that it would be the best to transfer the orcas from Srednyaya Bay in the middle of July.

As regards the beluga whales, the working group said they could be released only into their natural habitat, the Sea of Okhotsk. The optimal release time is summer 2019, but doing so in the summer of 2020 is another possibility. The group recommended that the belugas be released in groups comprising animals of various ages, with due account of their genetic relation.

About a hundred orcas and beluga whales were harvested in the Sea of Okhotsk in 2018 to be sold to Chinese oceanariums. The animals were caged in Srednyaya Bay off the city of Nakhodka in the Primorye Territory. The location was later dubbed a "whale jail." An inquiry initiated by the public, the Prosecutor General's Office, and the Russian Investigative Committee revealed that the animals had been harvested with numerous violations of law. Criminal and administrative cases were opened.

Preparations to release the whales into the wild are underway.