International pressure is growing for the release of nearly 100 whales seized by the Russian government before they could be exported to Chinese marine parks.
The 11 killer whales and 87 belugas have been held in watery pens dubbed “whale jails” in Srednyaya Bay near the Russian city of Vladivostok.
The whales, which can fetch millions of dollars, had been captured off Sakhalin Island last year by four companies linked to one businessman.
Three belugas and one orca disappeared while in captivity last year, with Greenpeace Russia believing they died as many of the whales are known to be in poor health.
In January, Greenpeace Russia reported some of the whales were showing skin lesions and flipper deterioration – injuries caused by bumping into the sea ice.
Animal activist group PETA said time is running out for the captured whales.
“We cannot stress enough that the lives of these whales are in danger, and they need immediate help,” reads a letter sent by PETA to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
While orcas travel up to 225 kilometres per day in the wild, this group of captive cetaceans has been imprisoned in severely crowded cages estimated to be 27 meters long by 15 meters wide.
Vladimir Putin is well known for his interest in wildlife conservation and is now involved in the row over the “whale jail”, along with federal prosecutors and the FSB state security service.
Actors Pamela Anderson, Adrian Grenier, Kate Mara, Edward Norton, and Maisie Williams have also signed their names in support of the animals.
Russian law allows the capture of whales for scientific or educational purposes, however the possible links to these mammals to Chinese theme parks has the program under investigation.