Whaling is bad enough, but whale jail seems like a more cruel thing that could happen to these marine mammals. They can’t warm themselves, they live in stagnant water with the rotting remains of their food, they get sick and they suffer slowly.
Greenpeace Russia believes that three belugas and one orca, which seemingly disappeared, to have died because everything in captivity is in poor health. Local authorities at that time claimed that they had escaped, but considering the poor conditions these whales had to live in and their deteriorating health, activists believe otherwise.
The environmental/animal activist group had firstly raised awareness about these marine mammals and four Russian companies linked to this case have been accused of violating fishing regulations and animal cruelty.
Where did the sea mammals come from? They were captured from the Sea of Okhotsk in the northern part of Russia, often illegally. Greenpeace believed that the orcas and belugas were kept in captivity so they could be sold to marine parks in China, because that kind of attractions were lucrative. One orca could generate millions of dollars while belugas are sold for tens of thousands of dollars.
Letters had been sent to President Vladimir Putin and as a result he was involved in this case along with federal prosecutors and the FSB state security service. Not surprising since the President of Russia is known for his passion and interest for wildlife and conservation.
What were the condition of the whales?
Aerial photos reveal that the mammals are kept in overcrowded pens and there are sheets of ice in and around the pens, leading to hypothermia. Even though you see these animals in cold waters, whales and orcas swim a lot everyday and that keeps them warm. When they can’t help but being idle in their small pens, they get cold.
Also, Greenpeace Russia reported that some whales have skin lesions and flipper deterioration that might have been caused by the ice. Orcas have it bad too, with skin lesions on and around their dorsal fins. Marine scientists said that it could be frostbite from exposure to cold, a fungal, or bacterial infection they get from the stagnant water. Now, orcas could live in cold water, but they usually migrate during the winter. Orcas in captivity can’t do that.
In fact, veterinarian Tatyana Denisenko, a professor at the Moscow-based Academy of Veterinary Medicine and Biotechnology, took samples from the water and from the orcas’ lesions. She said, “The skin of most of the 11 killer whales is thickly seeded with various microorganisms.” this could mean that food left in the pens might be rotting and infecting orcas’ skin.
The country took action
Thankfully, the sea mammals’ suffering is going to end. Russian authorities have agreed to initiate the release of 10 orcas and 87 belugas held captive in the overcrowded pens or whale jail off of the country’s southeastern coast.
This release is a result of a joint statement signed by the Primorsky region governor, oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau and Whale Sanctuary Project Executive Director Charles Vinick. To realize this plan, a team of international scientists will work to map out the sea mammals’ best chances of survival. It will include the when and how to release them as well as creating a rehabilitation center to make sure the release will go smoothly.
The whales and orcas could be freed soon, as early as this summer. However, a rehabilitation center is needed because many of the captive animals have been confined for too long or because they’re not in good health that they can’t just return to the wild immediately.
Confinement also make the sea mammals unfamiliar with the area surrounding their current enclosure and if authorities release them there, they might not thrive and live well. Therefore, scientists plan to return the orcas and belugas to the northern waters of Russia, the region where they were captured. That way, they could reunite with family members and go back to their community.
Vinick said that the sea mammals’ ability to survive on their own if they were released on the spot was limited. There are very young whales which have no memory or experience of how life is outside the pens. Vinick added that it was uncertain how well the mammals would be able to feed themselves or interact or work together with their own kind.
According to Russian news agency Tass, the 97 sea mammals will be assessed at the rehabilitation facility before they get released or transferred to local dolphinariums. The ones with issues such as skin lesions and flipper deterioration will receive medical treatment, and they will be kept in areas that are so similar to their natural environment.
It’s nice to know that Russia is taking actions to release the poor sea mammals. Now that they’re currently undergoing the release plan, let’s hope that everything goes well and the orcas as well as belugas will return to their rightful homes in great conditions.
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