(Some) Cetaceans Sprung from Whale Jail

AWI has followed the saga of the Russian “whale jail” for over a year now. It began in summer 2018, when 90 beluga whales and 11 orcas were captured in the Russian Far East and held in small holding pens all winter. Three of the belugas and one of the orcas died by the following spring. In an amazing development, the 10 surviving orcas were released back to the wild by the end of August 2019, after many months of suffering. The process was rushed and the young whales’ rehabilitation insufficient—many recommendations by an international team of experts were not followed. However, the Russian government’s decision not to allow the capture operators to sell the orcas to China was a positive step and resulted from intense international outrage. Several of the juvenile orcas were tagged and some of those tags are still transmitting data, so we know at least four of these whales survive. Another whale, whose visible tag is no longer transmitting, was observed with a wild pod, which is very encouraging. Several belugas were also released, to an unknown fate; unfortunately, others could still be sold to marine theme parks. We will continue efforts to get the remaining animals released.

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