June 27, 2019
The Jean-Michel Cousteau/Whale Sanctuary Project Team has issued the following statement about the transport and release of the first group of orcas and belugas into the Gulf of Sakhalin.
Serious questions are being raised about the care of the orcas and beluga whales who are being returned to the ocean from the “whale jail” in Russia.
Although our team has not yet received full video and other documentation that will help our specialists assess the condition of the whales, video and photographs from people who were present during the release of the first group of two orcas and six belugas into the Gulf of Sakhalin increased our specialists’ concerns about aspects of the release.
We are, of course, still pleased that the Russian government made the decision to release the orcas and belugas into the Sea of Okhotsk. As Vice Premier Gordeev said during President Putin’s “Direct Line” phone-in with the Russian people on June 18th, this was the “only right decision.”
However, it appears that the operation did not incorporate the most critical recommendations that the Jean-Michel Cousteau/Whale Sanctuary Project Team had delivered to the Russian government.
“What appears to have been missing is the kind of detailed contingency planning that’s key to a successful release,” said Charles Vinick, Executive Director of the Whale Sanctuary Project. “The logistics in such a large-scale operation are highly complex, and one has to ask whether sufficient time is being provided to ensure the health and welfare of the animals.”
We have other questions, too. These would include:
• What, if any, rehabilitation of the whales took place prior to transport?
• What plans were in place to mitigate stress on the animals from the six-day truck transport and
condition them for release back to the ocean?
• What steps were taken to release the orcas and the belugas at different times and in different
places, bearing in mind that these marine mammal-eating orcas are potential predators of
• What surveys, if any, were conducted to make sure that the whales would be released when
members of their family and social groups would be nearby?
“The lack of information and data makes it impossible for our international team of specialists to evaluate the severity of these concerns,” Vinick said. “A rehabilitation and release project of this scope and complexity needs experienced international and Russian specialists, along with independent observers, so that there is full transparency and so that the kind of questions now being raised can be answered.”
The Jean-Michel Cousteau/Whale Sanctuary Project Team is ready to provide international expertise upon request from the Russian government.