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20 Jun, 2019 12:46

Big money makes solutions tough, Putin says, as first captured belugas and orcas are released

Big money makes solutions tough, Putin says, as first captured belugas and orcas are released

Freeing all belugas and orcas stranded in a “whale prison” in Russia’s Far East is a tough task, as each costs roughly $100 million, Vladimir Putin said, just as the effort to release them into the wild was getting underway.

The fate of the infamous facility, where up to 100 belugas and orcas –or killer whales– were kept in tiny enclosures, is about to be decided shortly, Putin told the annual Direct Line Q&A session in Moscow. The whole process didn’t go as smoothly as expected, because it required a lot of time and money.

“It’s clear why the difficulties arose – the orcas alone, as far as I understand, cost nearly $100 million,” the President explained. “Solutions are always tough where big money is involved.” Earlier this year, he ordered immediate action to resolve the issue, but it has been dragging on since then.

However just as Putin spoke live to the public, eight marine mammals were being picked up from the “whale prison” and loaded onto trucks. After traveling some 1,800km, they will eventually end up being released into the Sea of Okhotsk.

The 87 belugas, 11 orcas, and five baby walruses were supposedly captured for educational purposes, but animal rights activists insist they were intended for sale to aquariums and amusement parks in China.

The authorities launched an investigation into conditions at the “whale prison”. At the time, Russian law allowed for the capture of whales for “cultural and educational purposes,” but did not explicitly prohibit them from being sold.

Speaking after Putin, Vice Prime Minister Alexey Gordeev announced resettling all the captive marine mammals, a process that will take as long as four months, because the authorities want to ensure maximum safety during the operation. The official also added that the government will further toughen whaling laws making exceptions only for scientists and indigenous peoples.

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