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Russia: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk court begins proceedings in ‘whale prison’ case

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Court proceedings in the case against the illegal capture of nearly a hundred beluga whales and orcas in Russia’s Far East began in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on Thursday.

The owner of the Afasina company, the firm which owns the facility where the 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales are kept in the Srednyaya Bay in Primorski Krai, Alexei Reshetov, said that his business is “ready to execute any lawful decision”.

Earlier Reshetov was reported to have said that he will not release the animals voluntarily.

Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov was surprised to hear Reshevin’s statement, saying that “We mean to refresh the memory about the list of orders given by the president. There is no need to give any additional orders, as everything had been clearly formulated. We can state now that these orders are not being executed at least partially, so now we will again study in which part these orders are not being implemented.”

The whales are believed to have been captured in the Sea of Okhotsk in 2018 and taken to cages in the Srednyaya Bay near the city of Nakhodka.

After public outcry over the living conditions of the whales in the Centre for the Adaptation of Marine Mammals, Russia’s Investigative Committee began a criminal investigation into possible animal abuse after inspecting the enclosures of the mammals.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Ministry for the Protection of the Environment and Natural Resources on February 22 to resolve the case by March 1 to prevent further unnecessary suffering of the animals.

Three belugas and one orca have reportedly disappeared from the enclosures during winter.

In the end of March, more than 30 experts from different countries signed a letter addressed to the Russian authorities asking them to provide the wildlife experts with access to the whales to evaluate their condition.

An international team lead by French oceanographer and explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau visited the whale prison in April, signing an agreement with Primorski Krai Governor Oleg Kozhemyako to release the beluga and orca whales back into their natural environment.

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