The whales, destined for “life” in captivity, would have been shipped to various aquariums and marine parks, the bulk of which are located in China. However, drone footage taken post-capture showed the mammals swimming in tiny sea pens in the freezing waters off Nakhodka, in Russia’s far east. The images sparked international outrage: conservationists and scientists voiced concern over the mammals’ welfare, and thousands of individuals signed petitions and sent letters to authorities to investigate the so-called “whale jail”.
After two orcas and three beluga whales “disappeared” under questionable circumstances, the Russian government stepped in and initiated a criminal investigation of the four private companies involved in the capture. The companies have been fined as the investigation continues. In addition, under the direction of President Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography announced the remaining whales – 10 orcas and 87 beluga whales – would be released in groups from June until October 2019. This process has now begun, with two orcas and six beluga whales on route to their release location.