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Ice prevents plans to release orcas and belugas before June, says scientist

According to Deputy Director of the Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography Vyacheslav Bizikov, all mammals on Srednyaya Bay are in satisfactory condition health-wise

MOSCOW, April 25. /TASS/. Experts plan to release orcas and beluga whales that are currently kept in Primorsky Region’s Srednyaya Bay in the northwest of the Okhotsk Sea, but the ice situation prevents them from implementing these plans before June, Deputy Director of the Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO) Vyacheslav Bizikov told reporters on Thursday.

"The general recommendation of the scientists now is that the whales should be released around the same location where they were captured. According to the documentation, they were caught in the northwest of the Okhotsk Sea. And the ice situation there simply won’t let us accomplish these plans until June," said Bizikov who is also the Secretary of the Russian scientist council formed to address the issue of the mammals’ release.

According to the scientist, all mammals on Srednyaya Bay are in satisfactory condition health-wise. Two belugas have some health problems, one killer whale has a broken tooth. "In their regard we’ve recommended additional examinations which along with the checkup of their skin damages after wintering do not change the general conclusions of our council: the mammals’ health and physical state are fine to release them into the ocean," he specified.

Bizikov underlined that experts should promptly devise individual plans for the possible release of the whales into their natural habitat. This issue is scheduled for discussion at the next council’s meeting on May 13. "At this stage we are counting on our cooperation with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s team as the experts who came here in April and worked with us in Srednyaya Bay specialize precisely on returning sea mammals into their natural habitat," he pointed out.

The council’s scientists will gather and discuss experts’ opinions on the mechanism of the whales’ release until May 13. In particular, the travel to the point of destination may take about three days and upon the arrival temporary enclosures should be set up, Bizikov drew an example.

Orcas and belugas in Far East

Eleven illegally caught killer whales and 90 beluga whales were kept in the Center of Adaptation at Srednyaya Bay. Later three beluga whales went missing, and the disappearance of one killer whale was reported. A criminal case on the illegal capture of animals was opened.

The Russian Presidential Administration took the whale issue under special control. On March 11, a board of scientists was determined whose task is to assess the current conditions of the animals and come up with recommendations on their management and re-adaptation. The board includes representatives from the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Far Eastern Federal University, the National Scientific Center of Marine Biology and other scientific organizations. An expert group was established to examine the mammals which included experienced scientists, veterinarians and specialized agency workers. Earlier, Primorsky Region Governor Oleg Kozhemyako announced the decision to release the orcas and belugas back into their natural habitat.