Russia Begins the Process of Returning Captive Whales to the Ocean

June 22, 2019

I have very good news to report! On June 20th, Russia loaded 8 animals – two orcas and six beluga whales – into trucks with water reservoirs to begin to move them 1,100 miles back to the Shantar Islands in the Sea of Okhotsk, the area where they were caught last year, according to the Whale Sanctuary Project.

These animals are the first of the 10 orcas and 87 beluga whales that were illegally captured last year for sale to aquariums and that Russia has promised would be returned to the ocean.

The release program was announced in Russia during President Vladimir Putin’s annual 4-hour “Direct Line” phone call with the Russian people. During the phone call, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Gordeyev told Putin that the government would change the law in order to ban hunting whales for “educational and cultural purposes” – since this reasoning was a loophole used to capture these whales.


Photo by Yuri Smityuk/TASS

The Russians are working to safely return these orcas and belugas.  The 8 animals are being monitored during transport by 70 specialists, including veterinary doctors and scientists, and each whale is accompanied by two people.  Russian scientists have stated that they will install GPS tracking devices on the orcas and belugas prior to their release.  This is all tremendous news!

The transport and release program is being supervised by Vyacheslav Bizikov, the Deputy Director of the Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO). The Whale Sanctuary Project team, including WSP Executive Director Charles Vinick and I, worked with the Institute during and after our visit to Russia in April to assess the captive whales and we also provided the Institute with reports and proposed protocols that recommended the orcas and belugas be returned to the area where they were captured.

Yesterday morning, Bizikov communicated with Charles Vinick to express his thanks for the help that the Jean-Michel Cousteau/Whale Sanctuary Team provided, and said, “We are trying to use as much of your input as we can.” 

“We are gratified to see that the orcas and the belugas are being transported to the Sea of Okhotsk for release,” said Vinick, on behalf of Jean-Michel Cousteau and the Whale Sanctuary Project team. “And we wish VNIRO and the release team every success in returning these orcas and belugas to the open ocean.  This is a good day for the whales.”

This news gives me so much hope that all of these whales will ultimately be returned to the area where they were captured. Through direct communication we can inspire the global community to understand that these marine mammals belong in the ocean with their families and communities.  Many people have helped spread the word about these captive whales, including all of you – and your voices are helping to protect them.  Together, we are working to protect the ocean, our life support system that we depend upon for the quality of our lives. 

“Protect the Ocean and You Protect Yourself”


Jean-Michel Cousteau
President, Ocean Futures Society