AWI has been following the situation involving dozens of wild belugas and orcas captured in the Sea of Okhotsk last summer and held ever since in the so-called “whale jail” in Nakhodka, in Russia’s Far East. We were instrumental in the drafting, signing, and submission of two letters from 25–35 international scientists urging the Russian authorities to end these captures permanently and to work to release these young whales back to their families.
There has been substantial progress toward both of these goals in the past two months. The Russian government has established a moratorium on orca captures—no quota will be set, even for scientific purposes, during the summers of 2019 or 2020. The situation for the belugas is less clear, but we believe there will be no captures in 2019 at least.
A team of international experts with experience in handling distressed cetaceans in the wild and in captive situations was allowed to visit the belugas and orcas in early April, spending several days assessing their health and suitability for rehabilitation and release. All appear releasable. A memorandum of understanding was signed between this team and the Russian authorities to work cooperatively for the benefit of these individuals. A release plan for this summer, to maximize the probability of reuniting with their families, is currently being discussed.