Russian whale jail fine, company that illegally held belugas.
A Russian fishing firm has been fined for keeping orcas and belugas in overcrowded ‘whale jails’ in the country’s far east.
The company, which supplies sea mammals to aquariums, is one of four businesses holding ten killer whales and 87 beluga whales in a controversial facility near the port town of Nakhodka.
It has been dubbed a ‘whale jail’ due to its crammed pens and the firm’s controversial plans to sell the animals to aquariums in nearby China.
A district court in the far eastern city of Vladivostok ruled the White Whale company violated fishing regulations when it captured three killer whales and ordered it to pay a fine of 28.1million rubles (£340,000), reports said.
Regional environmental activist Dmitry Lisitsyn, coordinator of Sakhalin Watch group, said he expected similar decisions about the rest of the killer whales and eventually belugas.
The fate of the Russian orcas and belugas – highly intelligent and social marine mammals – has scandalised the international community, with scientists and celebrities calling for their release.
But laws on the capture and keeping of marine mammals in Russia contain multiple loopholes.
The fishing firms have argued they had the proper paperwork and planned to deliver them to aquariums abroad.
The Russian government has promised to release the animals, but is not clear how and when this will be done.
This week Environment Minister Dmitry Kobylkin said that the animals will be released in ‘July or August’, though previously officials named May or June.
In March, Vladimir Putin ordered the release of around 100 sea mammals from a ‘whale jail’, but scientists warned it could lead to their mass annihilation in the wild.
The beluga and orca whales were expected to be released from the Primorsky region of Russia following a campaign backed by Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio.
Footage showed the extent to which the creatures were trained to be ‘affectionate’ ahead of their intended export to aquariums in China.
The Kremlin leader’s spokesman said Putin had already ‘made the relevant order’ and he hoped ‘the problem around the killer whales will be resolved in a very short time and that they will be released’.
It came after the FSB security service started to lay charges for ill-treatment against companies controlling the cramped mammal jail and aiming to sell them.
Putin also demanded the swift release of 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales from their ‘whale jail’ on Russia’s Pacific coast, according to reports, but there were doubts as to whether it ever occurred.
Oleg Kozhemyako, the governor of Primorsky region, said: ‘Scientists emphasise that at the moment the release into the wild of caged animals is fraught with risks to their lives.’