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Beluga whales released in Russia’s Far East adapt successfully — activists

Sightings of whales are quite frequent, they are always seen in groups

VLADIVOSTOK, December 17. /TASS/. Activists confirmed on Tuesday that beluga whales earlier released from the so-called whale prison in Russia’s Far East adapt successfully to their natural habitat.

A coalition of non-governmental organizations, headlined ‘Freedom to beluga whales and orcas,’ said on its official page on Russia’s VKontakte social network, citing interviews with locals, that the whales hunt and roam in groups.

"On December 13-14, our representatives monitored the area where the mammals had been released. They did not see the whales, but talked to security guards at several coastal facilities. Sightings of whales are quite frequent, they are always seen in groups (at least two, but usually in bigger groups of about 6-12 animals). Grey (young) whales are seen with whites (adults). So far, no dead beluga whales have been spotted," activists said in a statement.

According to witnesses, beluga whales come to different bays in the region, where they spend two or three days and then leave.

Ninety beluga whales and 11 orcas caught for sale to China had been kept in the Primorsky Region’s Srednyaya Bay, since the summer of 2018, but later three beluga whales and one orca got lost. According to investigators, during the whales’ capture, violations were detected and a criminal case on the illegal seizure of bioresources was launched.

In June, the gradual transportation of the marine mammals to the north of the Khabarovsk Region began for their release into the wild in groups. The first batch, consisting of two orcas and six beluga whales, was released into the sea on June 27. Three orcas were set free on July 16, and three more marine animals on August 6. Another group of orcas and six beluga whales were let go on August 27.

The last batch of beluga whales was released into the Primorsky Region on November 10. On October 24, a council of VNIRO scientists decided to free the remaining 50 beluga whales into a bay near the Lazovsky Nature Reserve due to approaching seasonal storms, not into the Sea of Okhotsk as had been initially planned. The operation to release the marine mammals was held on November 8-10 in several stages. Several scientists questioned the animals’ ability to adapt to warm waters off the Primorye Region.