‘Whale jail’ company that illegally held belugas and orcas in overcrowded ‘prison’ is fined £340,000
- The company is one of four firms holding ten killer whales and 87 beluga whales
- They are kept in a controversial facility near the port town of Nakhodka, Russia
- Called ‘whale jail’ due to small pens and plans to sell them to Chinese aquariums
- Vladivostok court ruled that White Whale company violated fishing regulations
- It came after it captured three killer whales and was it ordered to pay £340,000
A Russian fishing firm has been fined for keeping orcas and belugas in overcrowded ‘whale jails’ in the country’s far east.
The company, which supplies sea mammals to aquariums, is one of four businesses holding ten killer whales and 87 beluga whales in a controversial facility near the port town of Nakhodka.
It has been dubbed a ‘whale jail’ due to its crammed pens and the firm’s controversial plans to sell the animals to aquariums in nearby China.
White Whale, which supplies sea mammals to aquariums often in China, is one of four firms holding ten killer whales and 87 beluga whales in a controversial facility near the port town of Nakhodka
A district court in the far eastern city of Vladivostok ruled the White Whale company violated fishing regulations when it captured three killer whales and ordered it to pay a fine of 28.1million rubles (£340,000), reports said.
Regional environmental activist Dmitry Lisitsyn, coordinator of Sakhalin Watch group, said he expected similar decisions about the rest of the killer whales and eventually belugas.
The fate of the Russian orcas and belugas – highly intelligent and social marine mammals – has scandalised the international community, with scientists and celebrities calling for their release.
But a court in the far eastern city of Vladivostok ruled the company had violated fishing regulations when it captured three killer whales and fined it £340,000
But laws on the capture and keeping of marine mammals in Russia contain multiple loopholes.
The fishing firms have argued they had the proper paperwork and planned to deliver them to aquariums abroad.
The Russian government has promised to release the animals, but is not clear how and when this will be done.
The news comes after the FSB security service began laying charges for ill-treatment against companies controlling the cramped mammal jail and aiming to sell them
Putin demanded the swift release of 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales from their ‘whale jail’ on Russia’s Pacific coast
This week Environment Minister Dmitry Kobylkin said that the animals will be released in ‘July or August’, though previously officials named May or June.
In March, Vladimir Putin ordered the release of around 100 sea mammals from a ‘whale jail’, but scientists warned it could lead to their mass annihilation in the wild.
The beluga and orca whales were expected to be released from the Primorsky region of Russia following a campaign backed by Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio.
Footage showed the extent to which the creatures were trained to be ‘affectionate’ ahead of their intended export to aquariums in China.
The Kremlin leader’s spokesman said Putin had already ‘made the relevant order’ and he hoped ‘the problem around the killer whales will be resolved in a very short time and that they will be released’.
It came after the FSB security service started to lay charges for ill-treatment against companies controlling the cramped mammal jail and aiming to sell them.
Putin also demanded the swift release of 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales from their ‘whale jail’ on Russia’s Pacific coast, according to reports, but there were doubts as to whether it ever occurred.
Oleg Kozhemyako, the governor of Primorsky region, said: ‘Scientists emphasise that at the moment the release into the wild of caged animals is fraught with risks to their lives.’
Pictured: An aerial view of the pools the 11 orcas and 90 belugas were being kept in Srednyaya Bay near the city of Nakhodka, ahead of their sale to Chinese aquariums
Russia has ‘no experience’ of returning whales to the wild, he added.
The waters off Nakhodka in Primorsky region ‘are not their natural habitat’ and a release to the waters of the Sea of Okhotsk is both illegal under Russian law and ‘extremely complex’, he warned, apparently defying Putin, his mentor.
‘Besides, their socialisation causes serious questions, whether they can join wild herds or not,’ he said bluntly.
A scientific analysis he commissioned from Russian experts warned the mammals are so used to hand feeding that release could lead to their death.
He called for cooperation from international experts with experience in restoring whales to the wild.
In one clip, a whale tamer caring for the mammals demonstrated how the young beluga whales are unsuited to release.
A scientific analysis commissioned by the governor of Primorsky region warned the mammals are so used to hand feeding that release could lead to their death
He said: ‘Look at our foster children. They absolutely do not want to live without humans.
‘They are affectionate, tamed. And for them life without humans will be hard and unbearable.’
Head trainer Andrei Nasonov also cast doubt on intentions to release the whales, saying that training for future use in Chinese aquariums was still ongoing despite the FSB action.
‘When they were brought here, they were completely wild,’ he said. ‘They did not approach people. Now these animals are very active in their contacts with people.’
Minister of Nature Resources Dmitry Kobylkin said ‘it is absolutely clear that killer whales must be released’.
But it must be done so that not one mammal is lost, he added.
Whale tamers at the jail released this clip, showing how affectionate the young beluga whales are. He said: ‘They are affectionate, tamed. And for them life without humans will be hard and unbearable’
‘The animals have been in captivity for a very long time, just to let them out [is impossible],’ he said.
Some whales may have been suffering from pneumonia which meant ‘lifting them is quite problematic’.
He warned ‘a lot of time had passed, and the whales had adapted’ to captivity, meaning freeing them was ‘not easy’.
Head trainer Andrei Nasonov also cast doubt on intentions to release the whales, saying training for future use in Chinese aquariums was still ongoing
The Kremlin leader’s spokesman said that Putin had ‘made the relevant order’ and that he hoped ‘the problem around the killer whales will be resolved in a very short time’
French environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau, 80, offered his expertise while warning of major difficulties.
‘We are hopeful the Russian government will work to release the orcas and belugas back to the ocean where they belong, but the task of doing so is daunting,’ he said.
‘We are pleased to offer our expertise to this effort in any way that can be useful to the Russian government and scientific community.’
Russia has for years been the only country where it is legal to capture live killer whales, most of which are the seal-eating variety of the species that scientists say is rare and must be protected.
People increasingly oppose using such sea mammals for entertainment in the West, but in China the industry is booming and many new facilities are under construction.
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