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Russia to release 100 illegally captured whales from 'jail'

Celebrities, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and TV star Pamela Anderson, had called for their release.

Russia Whales Russian officials said the eight whales, and others still in captivity, would all be freed in the Sea of Okhotosk. Source: Alyona Stepanova/PA Images

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS HAVE launched an operation to release nearly 100 illegally captured whales whose confinement in Russia’s far east has become a rallying cry for environmentalists.

A state TV reporter made the announcement today during President Vladimir Putin’s live Q&A show, saying that by “coincidence” the operation began just before the start of the show.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Gordeyev said during the show that the operation to fully re-introduce the mammals back into the wild would take at least four months.

There has been a debate over whether to release the whales directly from the pens off the port of Nakhodka or, in a much more costly process, return them to the Sea of Okhotsk where they were caught – more than 1,300 kilometres to the north.

Russian officials said the eight whales, and others still in captivity, would all be freed in the Sea of Okhotosk.

“Right now two killer whales and six belugas are being taken to the Shantar Islands to finally set them free,” the TV reporter said.

The feel-good resolution to the controversy was reached during Putin’s phone-in, where he often resolves ordinary people’s problems on the spot and upbraids officials.

Putin, who has previously taken part in tagging an endangered beluga whale to help conservation research, said that the issue had been the animals’ high commercial value.

“The killer whales alone – as far as I know – are worth around 100 million dollars…When it’s big money, problems are always hard to solve,” Putin said.

“Thank God things have started moving.”

The condition of whales kept in cramped conditions in Russia’s far east has drawn international concern, and Putin personally ordered authorities to investigate the case and release the animals.

Scientists and celebrities, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and TV star Pamela Anderson, had called for their release.

Russian prosecutors have brought criminal charges against four companies keeping the whales.

With reporting - © AFP 2019

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