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International scientists urge access to ‘whale prison’ in Russia’s Far East

The scientists stress that the condition of the whales "is declining"

VLADIVOSTOK, March 26. /TASS/. More than 30 international scientists from around the world signed an open letter to Russia’s authorities asking them to provide access to orcas and beluga whales kept in the Center of Adaptation for Marine Animals in the Russian Far East Region dubbed a "whale prison."

Eleven orcas had been kept for sale to China in the facility in Srednyaya Bay along with 90 beluga whales. However, three beluga whales went missing, and one orca reportedly disappeared. Police are carrying out an investigation. A criminal case has been launched into illegal hunting of these mammals.

"We urge you to provide access for a team of Russian and international experts to enter the facility to evaluate and treat the whales and start the process of improving the captive facility," the letter says.

The scientists stress that the condition of these whales "is poor and declining." They referred to the conclusions of biologists and veterinarians, who compared an orca in photos taken 42 days ago.

"We would be happy to consult with Russian specialists and your Government on plans to return these whales to their capture sites and release them. We repeat our hope that the Russia government will prevent future captures of orcas and white whales in Russian waters," the letter says.

This incident has dramatically shown that "free-ranging orcas and white whales are traumatically stressed by capture and face a high risk of mortality after capture," it said. "Captures also can have a significant impact on the conservation status of wild populations, and this could result in damage to Russia’s precious natural resources," the scientists highlighted.

On March 11, members of the council of scientists were approved who will be tasked with assessing the condition of these mammals and prepare recommendations for their rehabilitation. Among them will be representatives of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Far Eastern Federal University, the National Scientific Center for Marine Biology and other scientific organizations. The Russian Scientific-Research Institute of Fishery and Oceanography will coordinate its work.

On March 22, the Primorye Region’s administration and members of the Russian Scientific-Research Institute of Fishery and Oceanography as well as representatives of the companies, which hold the whales in captivity, signed an agreement on cooperation to decide on the fate of the mammals and their possible release back into the wild.

Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture together with scientific organizations to come up with a solution for the whales.