Russia is to release three orphaned killer whales from a “whale prison” after it was revealed they had bonded together in captivity while waiting to be sold to China.
The three whales to be released were among animals seized from four companies connected to a single Russian businessman and held captive in what became known as the “whale jail”.
They were kept in pens in Srednyaya Bay near the Russian city of Vladivostok where they were to be sold for millions of dollars each – until the Russian government intervened.
Scientists have long known that killer whales are extremely dependent on their family units, known as pods, where they practice sophisticated hunting techniques that include communicating with each other.
According to the VNIRO (All-Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography) who are supervising the operation, the newly formed pod of three follows a typical Orca family structure with a dominant female, together with a mature male, who were acting together to raise an immature female.
They said that the two adults were following their natural instincts to properly raise and teach the younger member of their family, who was around five years old, compared to the two older whales who were between nine and 10 years old.
The spokesman for VNIRO added that the young female is the youngest prisoner of the whale prison, and added that the three had shown unprecedented affection for each other during their imprisonment.
The strong bond that the new family unit developed will ensure maximum chance of their survival when they are released back into the wild, they added.
They will be accompanied on the trip by experts who will help prepare them for release, as well as scientists and veterinarians.
Russia’s minister of natural resources said the logistics of releasing so many animals into the wild were extremely complicated.
The three killer whales set to be released were orphans and belonged to no pod, but formed their own family unit where they have been supporting each other in the prison. They will be delivered to the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk which is the same place where there was an earlier release of inmates from the whale prison as part of the same programme.
The Russian’s intervened followed an international outcry when it was discovered what was happening, with celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio joining a 1.5 million signature petition calling for their return to the ocean.
Russia’s FSB security service has brought charges against the companies for breaking fishing laws even though there is no direct ban on catching whales that can be caught in specific circumstances if for scientific and educational purposes.
The three whales have already been placed in their transport baths to be moved and are heading towards Khabarovsk with support staff including vets.
The first batch of 2 orcas and 6 belugas were released on 24th June.
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