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Last group of orcas continues journey to release site

The first leg of their journey lasted over 19 hours and was complicated by heavy rains

KHABAROVSK, August 24. /TASS/. A ship with two orcas and five beluga whales, earlier kept in the Srednyaya Bay in the Primorsky Region, departed from the Far Eastern regional capital of Khabarovsk down the Amur River, the Trans Amur company in charge of the shipment said on Saturday.

The sea mammals are being transported along the elaborate route: the Srednyaya Bay (Primorye Region) - Khabarovsk - Nikolayevsk-on-Amur district of the Khabarovsk Region - the Sea of Okhotsk shore. The truck convoy, accompanied by traffic police cars, departed from Vladivostok on August 22. Veterinarians and experts from the Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO) will monitor the whales and orcas throughout the journey.

"The vessel with the animals has departed. No incidents took place when the whales were being loaded into it," a company spokesperson said.

After the arrival to Khabarovsk, the animals were given time to rest after the first leg of their journey, which lasted over 19 hours and was complicated by heavy rains.

"Despite the long journey, veterinarians noted that the orcas and beluga whales came through it with minimal stress," VNIRO said in a statement.

The operation to release the sea mammals continues despite heavy rains and flooding all across Russia’s Far East. Although waters of the Amur River have topped the critical mark of six meters, specialists see no problem for the mission as berths in the village of Innokentyevka of the Nikolayevsk-on-Amur district, where the ship is due to arrive on Monday, are not expected to be flooded.

Eleven orcas had been kept in the facility in Srednyaya Bay along with 90 beluga whales for sale to China. However, three beluga whales went missing, and one orca reportedly disappeared. Criminal charges have been filed over the illegal poaching of these mammals.

In June, the mammals had gradually been moved to the Shantar Islands, where they are to be released into their natural habitat. The first group of mammals, consisting of two orcas and six beluga whales, was released into the wild on June 27. The second batch of three orcas was freed on July 16, and the third group of orcas was sent from Primorye to the Khabarovsk Region on August 1.