April 21, 2019
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Russia to release whales following Cousteau mediation

Moscow, Apr. 8 (efe-epa).- Nearly 100 animals that have been held in dreadful conditions in a "whale jail" in eastern Russia will be released into the wild, authorities told reporters on Monday.

The decision came after mediation talks with French marine expert Jean-Michel Cousteau and international scientists.

"All the animals will be released into the wild," Oleg Kozhemyako, the governor of Primorsky region, told local reporters.

"Scientists from Cousteau's team and Russian scientists will decide when and which animals to release," he continued.

The operation will begin in phases between May and June, Kozhemyako said.

He added that the act of transferring the mammals to their natural habitat will come at a great financial cost but that the operation will go ahead regardless.

The so-called whale jail is located near the Pacific coast city of Nakhodka, in the Sea of Japan.

The bay where the cetaceans have been held since last year will be adapted to improve conditions and make it as close to their natural habitat as possible, authorities said.

A rehabilitation center will also be created in the Sea of Japan to treat the mammals.

Cousteau, son of celebrity explorer and oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, said that an international fund would cover all the costs of the rehabilitation center.

"The Whale Sanctuary team and I are assessing the health of each individual and will prepare a plan four rehab and release back to the ocean," he tweeted on Sunday.

Cousteau said he was confident that the agreement that had been penned between his team and scientists from the local oceanographic institute will resolve the issue.

"The world's eyes are looking at us," he added. "They are waiting to see how we are going resolve this situation."

He added that the agreement was a result of days of negotiations with local authorities.

Members of Cousteau's team said that there had been attempts to train the whales, although they had only managed to get the mammals to eat out of trainers' hands in order to then sell them to aquariums.

Conservationists have been campaigning for months over the precarious conditions some 87 beluga whales, 11 orcas and five young walruses were held in.

The mammals were caught in the wild to sell on to Chinese aquariums for millions of dollars.

Scientists said that the animals were suffering from hypothermia and various diseases due to cramped conditions and poor sanitation.

Greenpeace released images of orcas and belugas with rashes, boils and ulcers which experts said were due to bacterial, fungal and viral infections.

The experts that have assessed the health of the cetaceans said that due to the stress they endured during their capture and the conditions they have been kept in their immunological systems had been severely debilitated in recent months.

The health of some of the whales was so bad, some are currently at risk of dying.

Lobbying of pressure groups grabbed the attention of celebrities such as actor Leonardo Di Caprio and resulted in an international petition to close the whale jail.

Following almost a year of inaction and the death of several whales, President Vladimir Putin ordered the government to find a solution to the crisis in February.

"What began as a global outcry has begun to evolve into a work of international cooperation as people of many nationalities gathered in Moscow to begin a long-term effort to return 97 illegally-captured orcas and beluga whales to the ocean," the Whale Sanctuary NGO said in a statement. EFE-epa


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