Here are two videos from today’s news conference with the Whale Sanctuary Project at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Moscow. Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Dmitri Kobylkin hosted the event and introduced our Executive Director Charles Vinick and our Special Advisor Jean-Michel Cousteau, founder of Ocean Futures Society.
First, in excerpts captured by Ruptly TV, Minister Kobylkin explains that the whales have not yet been released back into the wild because of winter:
“If we had released the animals at this period, they all would have died,” he says. “Summer is coming, and now we can, and we have to, conduct this work.” He added that this case is unique, as there has never been such a large number of whales captured in one place.
Cousteau says that readapting the whales into their natural environment might take years, and he pledges that the Whale Sanctuary Project team will do everything possible to succeed in it.
Vinick, who directed the successful return of the orca Keiko (of Free Willy fame) to his home waters off the coast of Iceland, confirms that most and hopefully all of the 10 orcas and 87 beluga whales can be returned to the ocean.
“Keiko was successful in joining other whales even after 20 years of captivity,” he said. “He learned that wild fish was food. He didn’t know that when we started.”
The next video is a complete, 45-minute record of the proceedings, including translation in French, English and Russian for the benefit of international reporters.
After Minister Dmitry Kobylkin says that the release of orcas and beluga whales is planned for this summer, he confirms that “No matter how good a golden cage is, it is clear that there is nothing better than letting animals go into the natural environment.”
Some key moments from the video:
At 09:30, Cousteau says “We not here to criticize; we are here to work together and find solutions.” He calls this the most exciting time of his life because” we are now in a position to make sure we can look in the eyes of our children and grandchildren and say you will have the same privilege that we had when we were your age.
At 12:10, he explains that every one of the whales is an individual, and that “we are going to be in a position to readapt every one of them to be released naturally in the environment.”
At 13:13, Charles Vinick (off camera at this point) explains our overall mission and the schedule for the next 10 days as we visit with the whales and offer our help and advice to the Russian government.
At 17:21, Minister Kobylkin says “We’re being led by our science and by the vision that we have to run this work as openly as we can. We especially value the international experience” in what is a unique situation.
At 22:03, Vinick talks about the experience of the team in captures and releases, entanglements and disentanglements, and how every case is different.
“Each of the animals is an individual and has to be treated as an individual.”“Each of the animals is an individual and has to be treated as an individual. In Srednyaya Bay, the challenge for rehabilitation and release is complex. And therefore we need to work together to identify a strategy for rehabilitation and for reintroduction or release of as many of those animals, one by one, as is possible.” He adds that the advantage we have is that these animals have been in captivity a relatively short time.
At 27:00, the Minister has to leave to go to a Cabinet Meeting. But first, he presents Cousteau with a remarkable fossil of an ammonite. (Check it out; it’s quite amazing.)
Vinick and Cousteau then talk about how long it took from the rescue of Keiko to the day he left his caregivers and took off with a pod of orcas who were passing by.
At 34:48, Vinick explains that because the orcas and belugas are so young, they had not yet learned to catch their own food when they were caught. So, it won’t simply be a matter of opening the gates and letting them go. And for each one of them, he emphasizes, it’s a different situation.
At 40:35, Cousteau tells the deeply touching story of a dolphin who had been captured and was living in a concrete tank “the size of this room.”
“She was a young female, and every day I was going to look at her and I felt something was wrong but the scientists would say they would take her temperature and blood samples, and they kept saying that she was fine. And one day, about six months later, I walked in and she was dead and she had swum from one side of the pool to the other and blew her brain on the concrete wall. That’s what I experienced as a young person. She committed suicide [because she was] in jail.
“And that’s what we want to avoid.”