Eight of about 100 whales held captive in Russia’s Far East began to be reintroduced into their natural habitat on June 20, just as President Vladimir Putin was holding his yearly nationwide call-in show with the public.
One of the first questions fielded out of some 2 million received during the four-hour, nine-minute program was on the plight of the more than 80 beluga whales and about a dozen orcas that were captured by four Russian companies in the Sea of Japan.
They were bound for sale to marine parks in China for an amount worth $100 million, a sizable amount that Putin noted in his answer.
“When it’s big money, problems are always hard to solve,” he said.
The cramped conditions endured by the whales in the Far Eastern port town of Nakhodka and the reasons for their captivity have angered environmentalists and even caught the attention of numerous Hollywood stars.
On February 22, Putin called for the issue to be resolved by March 1, just two days after a Twitter appeal by actor Leonardo DeCaprio.
The whales started being released just before the start of Putin's call-in show, an act that Russian state TV channel Rossiya 24 called a “coincidence.”
Putin reacted by saying, “Thank God things have started moving.”
The entire operation to fully reintroduce the whales will take at least four months, according to Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Gordeyev.
Meanwhile, Russian prosecutors have brought criminal charges against four companies keeping the whales.
Two of the four companies were fined a combined $1.34 million this month related to the capture of the whales.