Breaking news! The option to move orcas and belugas to captive facilities is considered by the Russian government

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Breaking news! The option to move orcas and belugas to captive facilities is considered by the Russian government

The statement of the public coalition “Free Russian whales”

March 5, 2019

On February 20th Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and the Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with interested scientific and public organizations to determine the fate of cetaceans held captive in Srednyaya Bay (Primorsky Krai, Russia Far East) and specified March 1st as a deadline.

On March 4, the MNR official Alexey Titovskiy voiced, as one of the options, transferring illegally caught orcas and beluga whales to oceanariums, specifically most of the belugas to foreign ones

On March 5, Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Gordeyev announced the decision to move orcas and belugas to a certain “Large marine animals keeping centre”, which will be set up in one of the bays of Russkiy Island near Vladivostok

The coalition “Free Russian Whales” strongly disagrees with these proposals and does not support the decision to move whales to the as-yet-non-existent “Center” on Russkiy Island.

Orcas and belugas kept in Srednyaya Bay were caught illegally – this is a clear and consistent position of the General Prosecutor office of the Russian Federation The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation and the Border Guard Service of the Russian Federation adhere to the same position and have filed respectively criminal and administrative cases on the basis of facts on illegal capture of animals.
Any transfer or sale of illegally caught animals to oceanariums, dolphinariums and other entertainment establishments, either in Russia or abroad, are not allowed by the legislation of our country. The General Prosecutor’s Office has repeatedly emphasized this in it’s official statements

The placement of illegally caught animals to the oceanariums is not supported by environmental and conservation organizations, marine mammals specialists, is also not accepted by Russian citizens and the wider international community. Almost 1 million people signed a petition for the release of orcas and beluga whales from the whale jail

Moving to the Russkiy Island could only occur after the onset of the warm season. The hypothetical “Keeping Center of large marine animals” does not exist yet even in the project – above means that for additional several months marine mammals will be held in unsanitary conditions , where they continue to be trained to perform in oceanariums.

Water quality at the Russkiy Island is lower than one at Srednyaya Bay so the animals diseases, already developed in captivity, likely to develope and expand in that new proposed location.
This relocation (in the direction opposite to optimal release sites) to Russkiy Island and then back to the places of release will cause additional unnecessary stress for orcas and beluga whales. The transportation of such large number of cetaceans is an extremely difficult (technically and logistically) operation, of which animals suffer greatly.

So the transfer of cetaceans from Srednyaya bay to Russian island is not acceptable. For the animals it makes no difference at which facility they’ll be kept.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Agriculture, in violation of the instructions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, did not involve public organizations in the discussion of the fate of cetaceans. On February 24, a coalition of public organizations sent a formal request to the Ministry of the Natural Resources to involve its representatives in the execution of the President’s instructions. The Ministry ignored this appeal.

“Free Russian Whales” coalition considers as the only acceptable option to release animals from Srednyaya Bay into the wild, without any temporary centers for relocation . The release in the area of capture is optimal (due to ice conditions this is possible only past the end of June). Nevertheless, experts consider it acceptable to release the whales earlier in the Tatar Strait.

Rehabilitation (preparation for release) of orcas and beluga whales should begin immediately at the place of their current confinement at Srednyaya Bay. To implement this, it is necessary to create an international expert group of Russian and international experts, resolve the issue with the sublease of all the equipment and jail territory, transfer the animals from the illegal possession to the control of experts and carry out a simple set of measures:
-reduce human contact with animals to a minimum, feed them remotely through flexible sleeves;
-combine sea pens for orcas; enlarge and partially combine sea pens for beluga whales;
-conduct an assessment of the health of animals and conduct a course of treatment for those who need it.

Generally, this is sufficient to prepare animals for the release. Perennial climatic data show that since mid-April, a stable positive temperature is established in the region – which means that from now on, animals can be moved over into transportation containers and relocated to the release site on the vessel deck.

One of the most acceptable options for the release of animals:
Release orcas in the second half of April in the southern, ice-free part of the Tatar Strait, where there is no ice and at this time there are rich food resources for them (fur seals, sea lions and other pinnipeds).

Release beluga whales in the first half of May in the northern part of the Tatar Strait, which becomes ice-free later in the season. Concerned area is likely to have enough fish stocks (herring) and the first pods of wild beluga whales that migrate into the area.

For the transportation of animals, it is necessary to engage a large self-propelled or towed barge, on the deck of which containers with animals could be placed with a wheeled crane. The Russian Navy Pacific Fleet, has already agreed to assist in transporting animals to the place of release.

Orcas and beluga whales live in the groups (pods), so it is necessary to release all 10 orcas at the same time, and beluga whales – in larger groups of several dozens of animals.

A good number of orcas and beluga whales in Srednyaya Bay are individuals of 4-5 years old – this means that by the time they were captured they had been foraging for several years and had made seasonal migrations.

The presence of groups of animals of different ages will help restore their natural social structure and ensure the survival of both older and very young individuals.

The detailed development and implementation of this plan should be optimally carried out under the patronage of the Russian Geographical Society. Leading international experts in the field of cetacean rehabilitation have already agreed to come to Russia and help rescue the animals from the “whale jail”.

This plan will ensure the successful release of illegally captured cetaceans to freedom in the shortest possible time with maximum chances of survival. At the same time, it will require way less financial resources than the construction of a new “Keeping Center for large marine animals” on Russian Island (in fact, another “whale jail”, that no one will even need after release).

The public coalition “Free Russian Whales” is ready to take part in financing the implementation of this plan by attracting charitable funds.

The public coalition “Free Russian Whales” will consistently seek the earliest possible release of all cetaceans into their natural habitat and urges the Ministry of Natural Resources to fulfill the instructions of the President of Russia and involve public organizations in the rehabilitation work and preparations for the release of orcas and belugas to the wild.

For additional information please contact 
“Sakhalin ecological watch”, Dmitry Lisitsyn +7 924 190 1022 
Scientific and Ecological Dolphin Rescue Center “Delfa”, Grigory Tsidulko +7 910 441 9841, Tatyana Beley +7 919 100 7586

The public coalition “Free Russian Whales”:
Regional public organization “Sakhalin ecological Watch”
Sakhalin Regional Public Organization “Ocean Friends”
Sakhalin Regional Public Organization Club “Boomerang”
ANO Scientific and Ecological Center for the Rescue of Dolphins and Other Marine Mammals “Delfa”
ANO Scientific and Practical Center for the Protection of Marine Mammals “ORCINUS”
Public inspector of environmental protection (Rosprirodnadzor in the Central Federal District) S. V. Belyaeva
NP “Rehabilitation center of marine mammals” Tyulen “
ANO “Seaside Center for Underwater Research”

Advisory assistance to the coalition is provided by: the Russian branch of Greenpeace, the Marine Mammals Council, the Moscow State Academy of Veterinary Medicine and Biotechnology, the Moscow State Academy of Biology named after KI Scriabin