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Russia releases last belugas from ‘whale jail’

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MOSCOW: The last whales held in a notorious facility dubbed the "whale jail" in Russia's Far East were released on Sunday (Nov 10), the institute overseeing the operation said.

The fate of the whales, which were captured to perform in aquariums, sparked international outrage earlier this year after pictures appeared in the media of them struggling to swim through ice-encrusted waters in cramped enclosures.

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Moscow eventually bowed to pressure to release the 93 beluga whales and 11 orcas, which were held for more than a year in the secretive facility in Srednyaya Bay near the far eastern town of Nakhodka.

Global outcry followed when pictures were published of the whales struggling to swim through ice-encrusted waters in cramped enclosures AFP/Sergei PETROV

The whales have since been released in batches, with the last of the orcas freed in August.

The All-Russian Fisheries and Oceanography Institute said the operation to free the last belugas started five days ago.

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"In the region of Primorsky Krai, the operation to release the marine mammals into their natural habit has been completed," it said in a statement on Sunday.

Russian NGO Sakhalin Watch, which campaigned for the whales to be freed, said the final 21 belugas were released from two ships on Sunday.

The organisation said it was delighted that "the release of all the beluga whales has taken place and that the 'whale jail' has finally freed its last prisoners!"

The operation began around 9am (2300 GMT Saturday) and went on until 5pm, Sakhalin Watch said.

Many scientists and activists have criticised the Oceanography Institute for keeping the details of the release secret, not taking any observers Read More – Source