Experts fear that marine mammals may die under inhuman conditions.
On February 27, Leonardo DiCaprio signed a petition for the release of 11 killer whales and 90 belugas, which are kept in close enclosures in Srednyaya Bay near the city of Nakhodka in Primorye. Animals were caught in late summer and early autumn 2018 for sale in China. To date, several belugas have managed to “escape”, and environmentalists report that whales are in unsanitary conditions. The investigative committee initiated a case of animal abuse (part 1 of article 245 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Putin personally demanded to solve the problem.
From summer to autumn 2018, four private companies – Afalina, DV Aquarium, White Whale and Sochi Dolphinarium – caught 11 killer whales and 90 belugas, Novaya Gazeta found out . Animals placed in the base for adaptation. Legal entities caught whales under the guise of cultural and educational purposes permitted by law , but in fact they sold them to China. Greenpeace fears that with such sales, the entire population of killer whales will be on the verge of extinction.
According to Novaya Gazeta, the cost of all marine mammals was $ 19 million.
Only organizations with appropriate equipment can receive a quota for catching whales for cultural and educational purposes. In a year, 13 individuals can be caught, but beluga whites younger than a year are prohibited to catch anyway.
On October 24, Greenpeace found out that 13 killer whales want to sell to China. On November 5, killer whales and beluga whales were loaded with cranes into transport containers and began to be taken out of the bay. The experts considered that the evacuation was related to the inspection of the prosecutor’s office appointed for the coming days.
Primorsk human rights activist Nina Zyryanova tried to get into the bay and take a picture of the “whale prison”, but the base staff demanded to delete photos taken on the coast. According to Zyryanova, she was captured and a flash card with pictures from the camera was stolen.
“Cultural and educational” organizations
On November 6, representatives of the Vladivostok environmental prosecutor’s office announced that they would verify information on the possible export of killer whales and beluga whales. On November 15, the prosecutor’s office reported that the organization that received animal catch quotas is not actually engaged in cultural and educational activities.
On November 16, the IC of Primorsky Krai opened a criminal case under article 256 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (illegal extraction of aquatic biological resources). As part of the investigation, a security arrest was imposed on the whales on November 23 , and they became material evidence in the case. Because of the arrest, their sale and transportation was impossible.
A week later, on November 30, Greenpeace and non-governmental organizations of the Far East sent a request to the UK to release killer whales and white whales from arrest on the basis of the opinion of the Marine Mammals Council. Experts felt that it was necessary to release all the whales, except for the sick. After a long time in the aviary, the behavior of infected animals changes, and they can maintain contact with healthy individuals in the wild, infecting them. Zoodefenders feared that whales might die.
Reaction of the court and authorities
On December 7, the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk City Court overturned the conclusion of the state environmental review, which gave private companies the right to catch killer whales in 2018, and declared that animal-based fishing was illegal. A lawsuit against the department of Rosprirodnadzor was filed by three public organizations advocating for the protection of the environment: the Sakhalin Environmental Watch, Friends of the Ocean and the Boomerang Club.
On December 21, three belugas disappeared from the bay . The head of Sakhalin Environmental Watch suggested that the whale cubs were unable to swim on their own. If they had disappeared, they could not have survived in the wild without mother’s milk. He noted that cameras were installed in the “whale prison”, so the incident should have been recorded. Ecologists did not provide video recordings.
Whales are no longer considered material evidence – on December 24, the court lifted the arrest from them. Defenders of animals were afraid that killer whales and belugas would sell abroad. The Far Eastern Operational Customs has promised to monitor the situation in the bay and prevent the illegal export of animals. At the same time, the UK Primorsky Krai handed over the case to the Khabarovsk Krai police. Environmentalists are worried that because of this, the investigation will be delayed.
Activists have created a public initiative to enact a law against whaling. On February 1, microbiologist Tatyana Denisenko, who participated in the expert committee, toldNovaya Gazeta that they found fungal infections and lesions on the skin of whales, and they live in stagnant water.
The police has established the fact of inadequate keeping of marine mammals. On February 7, the UK in the Khabarovsk Territory opened a criminal case on animal abuse (article 256 of the Criminal Code). The agency reported that “taking measures to return 90 belugas and 11 killer whales to their natural habitat.”
Two weeks later, on February 22, Putin ordered the Ministry of the Environment to decide the fate of the whales before March 1, 2019. At the same time, Dmitry Peskov said : “It’s impossible to deal with the problem for a long time, because the situation has already been pretty long and the animals are suffering, so this was requested by the head of state.” On February 26, the Ministry of Environment proposed to develop a “road map” for the adaptation of animals in their natural environment.
Reaction of stars and celebrities
On February 27, actor Leonardo DiCaprio asked subscribers in their social networks to sign a petition for the release of killer whales and beluga whales from the bay. At the time of this writing, the petition was signed by more than 800 thousand people.
Please sign this petition and join me in speaking out against the inhumane capture of orcas and belugas in Russia. https://t.co/OED9zJ9fnz
— Leonardo DiCaprio (@LeoDiCaprio) 26 February 2019
Peskov responded to the call of Di Caprio to free the whales: “We hope that in the shortest possible time the problem of killer whales will be solved and they will be released.
“Whale Prison” and previously attracted the attention of celebrities. On February 7, the petition was signed by oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. February 25, actress and environmentalist Pamela Anderson appealed to Vladimir Putin with a request to release the whales from the “prison.”
The petition states that the whale cubs are separated from their parents. Experts believe that if they do not get enough breast milk, they will not live to the end of winter.
#Orcas & belugas are being held captive in small cages in a Russian bay. A winter cold snap is freezing the bay: the lives of these whales hang in the balance.
— Change.org Canada (@CdnChange) 25 February 2019
The creators of the petition believe that the problem lies in the fact that the animals remain in the “whale prison” while the authorities are trying to find the right procedural solution. Experts worry that animals will die if they remain in these conditions. They require measures to adapt whales in their natural environment and set them free.