Man holding 98 orcas and belugas in ‘whale prison’ refuses to free them

‘What release are you talking about? These mammals are my property,’ owner says

Zamira Rahim
Thursday 23 May 2019 12:35 BST
A bird's-eye view of whale 'prison' in Russia

The owner of a group of beluga whales and orcas being held in cages in Russia has said he is not planning to release the marine mammals.

“Any question regarding their release may be posed only after I’m deprived of the ownership rights, what release are you talking about?” Alexei Reshetov said.

Mr Reshetov is director general of Afalina, the company which owns the illegally captured animals.

“These mammals are my property. I have not made any decision on releasing them and I’m not planning to do this,” he said.

Photographs of the so-called “whale prison”, which is near the city of Nakhodka, first emerged last year.

Originally 90 beluga whales and 12 orcas were held in the marine containment facility.

But local prosecutors said some of the mammals had escaped, leaving 87 beluga whales and 11 orcas at the facility.

The cramped conditions at the marine containment centre horrified environmental activists, who have staged protests near the area.

Although Mr Reshetov told Russia’s state TASS news agency that he was the owner of the animals, it had previously been reported that four separate companies owned the mammals.

Russian prosecutors have brought criminal charges against the four companies, which appear to be affiliated.

The nation’s law only allows the capture of whales for scientific purposes.

The mammals are being kept in pens near the city of Nakhodka

The four companies have previously been fined for illegal capture and have a history of selling the animals to amusement parks abroad.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is also said to have taken a special interest in the case.

The president’s spokesperson said Mr Putin was concerned about the case and wanted the whales freed.

In February Russian authorities said the mammals had to be released back into the wild but the order is yet to be complied with.

Officials now hope to release the whales into the wild by the summer and have invited a French ocean explorer to advise them.

Russian scientists estimate that the rehabilitation effort will cost about 300 million rubles (about £3.5m).

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