A team of experts, brought together by the Whale Sanctuary Project team and led by explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau, has received a formal invitation from Russia’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources to visit Srednyaya Bay on Russia’s Far East coast.
Our mission there will be to assess the condition of the 10 orcas and 87 beluga whales who are being held in sea pens, commonly referred to by Russian media as a “whale jail,” and to advise the government on their health and how they can be returned to the open ocean.
The Whale Sanctuary Project has set up a special fund to meet the costs of this initial visit.
Your donations to this fund are greatly appreciated.
The whales were captured illegally last year by a consortium of four companies whose apparent intention was to sell them to marine entertainment parks in China.
Three of the original whales are no longer in the pens and are assumed to have died.They have been languishing in icy water throughout the bitterly cold Russian winter, and there are conflicting reports on their condition. When a recent inspection concluded that “there is no threat” to the health of the whales, the national newspaper Izvestia noted that these conclusions “raise questions among some scientists, [who] do not trust the organization conducting the survey.”
What we know for sure is that three of the original whales are no longer in the pens and are assumed to have died, and that others have serious skin wounds and that they appear to be suffering from the cold and loss of energy.
Along with Cousteau, the Whale Sanctuary Project team is led by Executive Director Charles Vinick, who managed the reintroduction of the orca Keiko to his home waters off the coast of Iceland in the 1990s. Other members include Jeff Foster and Ingrid Visser who are among the leading experts in whale and dolphin rehabilitation and release, and Russian veterinarian Tatyana Denisenko.
In his reply to the invitation from the Director of the Ministry, Vinick writes:
“Jean-Michel Cousteau offers his and his team’s assistance … to return these orcas and beluga whales to marine waters close to where they were caught and where their populations are found, or to other appropriate open ocean water habitats with sufficient food resources …
“We look forward to providing our experience, expertise and assistance for the welfare of these orcas and beluga whales.”
The Russian press is now reporting that an investigation has been launched into the illegal capture and abuse of “aquatic animals.” Russian law allows for whales to be held for scientific and educational purposes, but the whales in Srednyaya Bay were clearly destined for neighboring China, where there are already at least 76 dolphinariums and marine parks, and at least 25 more planned for construction over the next few years. Approximately 954 cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), of at least 12 species, are currently on display in China. Most of them were captured from the wild and imported, primarily from Japan and Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has tasked the Environment Ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture with determining the future of the whales.
The full Whale Sanctuary Project team will be departing for Russia on April 3rd and will be assembling in Srednyaya Bay to work with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, as well as Russian scientists.