Animal welfare advocates call on Putin to release orcas, belugas from 'whale jail'

Animal welfare advocates call on Putin to release orcas, belugas from 'whale jail'
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A group of marine mammal biologists last week sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin calling on him to release orcas and belugas from “whale jail.” 

The 34 scientists who signed on to the letter requested that the roughly 80 beluga whales and 10 orca whales held in Russia's Far East be released and called for the country to stop capturing whales in the Sea of Okhotsk for sale to marine parks.

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The letter includes research, prepared by biologists and veterinarians, on the deteriorating health of at least one orca that is held in a small enclosure.

It also calls for a team of Russian and international experts to be granted access to evaluate and treat the whales held in Srednyaya Bay.

"Such improvements could include expanding the size of the pens to provide more room for the whales (especially the white whales, who seem unduly crowded), providing a way to warm the waters to prevent icing over of the pens (if icing is still a problem at the facility), and reducing the bacterial and other contaminants in the pens through, for example, better water circulation," the scientists wrote.

"The poor water quality is likely contributing to the apparent decline in the health of these animals, as evident from the poor state of their skin."

Russian officials have reportedly charged four companies in the Far East for holding whales in confined spaces and have been evaluating options for how to address the whales.

“We are grateful to the Russian authorities, including President Putin, for the consideration they have shown toward these suffering whales,” Dr. Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute said in a statement.

“Science suggests that these young animals can expect to have a good chance of success if they are released to their birth populations, where they can learn from familiar adults how to survive in the wild. We hope that the Russian government will soon take these steps to achieve this goal.”

—Updated at 2:17 p.m.