Updated 6/27/19: Our Russian colleague Oxana Fedorova has given us an update on the plight of the two orcas and six beluga whales who were sent on a long and hazardous journey from where the whales were held in captivity to the site of their capture. And it does not look good. After a long transport that would have left the orcas and beluga whales exhausted, confused and traumatized, the people in charge of the operation simply dumped them in the open sea, with no rehabilitation period whatsoever. Since the so-called release was not videotaped, there is no way of knowing how many of the eight whales were actually released. There is also no way of knowing how many of them even survived the six-day long transport. The whales were dumped near the location where the beluga whales were captured. Apparently, no effort was made to help the orcas find their way home. After being hand-fed for about a year, the abandoned whales, who lost their families and pod members during the capture, will now have to fend for themselves.
6/26/19: Almost a year after 12 orcas and 90 beluga whales were illegally captured from the Sea of Okhotsk, off the coast of Russia, the process of releasing the surviving mammals back into their home range has begun.
The whales, destined for “life” in captivity, would have been shipped to various aquariums and marine parks, the bulk of which are located in China. However, drone footage taken post-capture showed the mammals swimming in tiny sea pens in the freezing waters off Nakhodka, in Russia’s far east. The images sparked international outrage: conservationists and scientists voiced concern over the mammals’ welfare, and thousands of individuals signed petitions and sent letters to authorities to investigate the so-called “whale jail”.
After two orcas and three beluga whales “disappeared” under questionable circumstances, the Russian government stepped in and initiated a criminal investigation of the four private companies involved in the capture. The companies have been fined as the investigation continues. In addition, under the direction of President Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography announced the remaining whales – 10 orcas and 87 beluga whales – would be released in groups from June until October 2019. This process has now begun, with two orcas and six beluga whales on route to their release location.
What Could Go Wrong?
While Dolphin Project applauds the Russian government’s decision to finally release the whales, there are several “unknowns” surrounding the release process. We are unaware of any efforts made to locate the pods from which the orcas and beluga whales were captured. There is a lack of transparency surrounding the transport, rehabilitation and release of the mammals. Finally, after being held captive for almost a year, a solid rehabilitation plan needs to be in place, of which one doesn’t seem to exist.
“Over the years, I have witnessed and participated in the rehabilitation and release of numerous captive dolphins. Every single one of these releases was carried out with the participation of several different people: military personnel, representatives from the government, veterinarians, local environmental organizations, journalists, film makers, NGOs, (non-government organizations) and sometimes even the Minister of Environment. In the case of the Russian dolphin and whale release that is now taking place, no outsiders are allowed to participate in the transport and release, or even monitor how the mission is carried out. This release is completely lacking in any transparency and openness. The orcas and beluga whales, who have already been through so much, are now being exposed to a hazardous and lengthy transport, and due to the secrecy of the operation, the world may never know if they survive.” ~ Helene O’Barry, Dolphin Project
Dolphin Project will continue to monitor this release. Please follow our social media for updates.
Featured image: Two orcas and six beluga whales photographed in transport containers as the re-release process begins. Credit: Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography