Russia Has a 'Whale Jail' Where Belugas and Orcas Are Held Captive in Freezing Water, Greenpeace Offers to Help

In November last year, reports emerged of a "whale jail" in Russia, with over 100 orcas and belugas being kept in small, crowded enclosures near the city of Nakhodka, in the south east of the country. It is suspected the whales are due to be sold to Chinese theme parks—and until then they are being held in small marine containers.

Local media dubbed the facility a "whale jail" and this term caught on, and is now being used by Greenpeace to describe the bay near Nakhodka.

Since November, Greenpeace has been campaigning for the release of the whales, and has raised concerns about the health of the animals being held. The organization says that the water temperature in Primorye, the province where Nakhodka is located, fluctuates massively between day and night. A statement from Greenpeace said that inspections tend to be carried out in the day, when the water is warm—but at night they plummet.

Killer whales, the organization says, are particularly vulnerable to the cold. This issue is compounded by the cramped conditions, which leads to hypodynamia—a condition where there is a marked decrease in strength. Put together, Greenpeace says the whales' health and lives are at risk.

As a result, the Russian branch of the organization has offered to provide the people holding the whales with heat guns and other equipment that can be used to raise the night-time water temperature.

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The "whale jail" in Russia. Greenpeace/Friends of the Ocean

In Moscow, Greenpeace activist Oganes Targulyan called for the Minister of Ecology and the governor of Primorsky to free the whales. Greenpeace also appealed to Ilya Shestakov, the head of the Russian Fishery Agency, to cancel the permits that allowed the capture of the killer whales currently being held in Nakhodka.

The organization says there is a disconnect within the Russian government—while the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Federal Service for Supervision of Use of Natural Resources wants the whales freed, the Federal Agency for Fishery does not. It said the latter is already preparing for another killer whale catch in 2020.

Killer whales and belugas can reportedly fetch huge sums in China. According to a report in the U.K.'s Telegraph, a single orca can reach over $6 million—and there is high demand. There is currently a surge in marine theme parks in China, with at least 60 already open and more under construction.

Footage appearing in local media last year appeared to show some of the whales being prepared for transportation—although the destination was not known. It is thought some of the whales had been kept at the Nakhodka facility since July.

At the time, Targulyan said it was "torture" to keep these whales captive, and warned about the risk to the overall numbers of killer whales. "Catching them at this tempo, we risk losing our entire Orca population," he is quoted as saying. "The capture quota now is 13 animals a year, but no one is taking into account that at least one Orca is killed for every one that is caught."

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A beluga whale in the Russian "whale jail." Greenpeace/Friends of the Ocean