Russian whale jail inmates might be freed thanks to Cousteau

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Russian whale jail inmates might be freed thanks to Cousteau

There is a glimmer of hope for the 100 whales held captive after the ocean explorer raises the alarm

Alec Luhn


Nearly 100 marine mammals held in an infamous Russian “whale jail” could be freed as soon as June, officials have suggested.
The son of the late French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau visited the facility on Russia’s Pacific coast on Saturday at the invitation of authorities, who have been scrambling to deal with the situation following months of negative press.
It was discovered in November that 11 killer whales and 90 Beluga whales were being kept in small pens in a bay near Nakhodka and were expected to be sold to Chinese aquariums. Four of the whales are since believed to have died in their unnatural confinement.
Jean-Michel Cousteau, 81, will help install video cameras in the animals’ pens that will “raise the chances of conducting a successful release of the animals into their natural habitat in the future”, local scientists said.
The border guard service brought charges against the whales’ owners, alleging they were violating the terms of their licence to capture them. It said they were being held in cramped conditions and should be released. Legal cases are ongoing, but many of the whales are expected to be in poor health and not ready to be freed after such a long captivity. They were brought from the north and do not know the area around Nakhodka. Some have grown up in confinement.
Dmitry Kobylkin, the natural resource minister, said at a media briefing with Cousteau on Thursday that the warming weather would soon make it possible to consider releasing some of the whales. “We are counting on our foreign colleagues whose long experience will help develop an optimal decision,” he said. “The majority, if not all of them, if we can release, they will be released where they were captured” in hopes that they can reconnect with their families, Cousteau said. “That’s our goal, for all of us, to release them. And it may take years. We don’t know yet.”
The governor of the region where the bay is located said on Friday the whales could also be placed in Russian dolphinariums.Actress Pamela Anderson has written to President Vladimir Putin seeking the whales’ release, and 1.4 million people have signed a petition to free them after actor Leonardo DiCaprio urged fans to do so.
A commission of scientists will determine which whales can be released and which will be sent to aquariums.Activists are cautiously optimistic that these efforts will lead to the closure of the “whale jail”.“It’s hard to say how hard [the authorities] are trying” to release the whales, said Dmitry Lisitsyn, of Sakhalin Environmental Watch. “But Cousteau’s arrival is definitely a big plus.”Russian companies can obtain quotas to catch whales for scientific or educational purposes. The firms renting the enclosures in the bay previously exported 13 whales to China, where marine parks can pay several million dollars.– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)

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