Foreign Policy Blogs

Update: Rescue of beluga whales halted, but some may have already escaped

Update: Rescue of beluga whales halted, but some may have already escaped

Beluga whales at sea (note that this is not a photo of the trapped ones).

Update: Rescue of beluga whales halted, but some may have already escaped

The Russian ship, the Rubin.

I received a large reader response to my post about the trapped Beluga whales on December 15. Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations sent the ship, the Rubin, to break up the ice in the Sinyavinsky Channel to free the 100 whales, but severe weather forced the ship to seek safe harbor, as RIA Novosti reports. The ship sailed to the port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in Kamchatka to refuel and will reportedly attempt to resume rescue activities once the weather improves. It’s probably a good idea to wait out the stormy weather in the North Pacific for the sake of the sailors. In the past couple of weeks, to the southwest, around the Sea of Okhotsk, two ships have fallen into distress. Right before Christmas, a Cambodian-flagged ship, the Ginga, sank in the La Perouse Strait just south of Sakhalin. Three people have died in this incident so far. Today, in the Kuril Islands, the Irina, a Russian refrigerator vessel homeported in Vladivostok, broke down with a flooded engine room and punctured hull. High winds and waves made rescue initially difficult, though all 19 sailors were eventually saved. Kolskaya, the oil rig that went down while being towed in December, also sank off Sakhalin, in this case off the island’s east coast.


Update: Rescue of beluga whales halted, but some may have already escaped

Map of the Sea of Okhotsk, with Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, and Kamchatka.

In Russia, a different story about the Beluga whales has captured the headlines, which has not yet been reported in Western outlets, at least to my knowledge. Apparently, hunters in Chukotka have only found 12 beluga whales in the channel, rather than the 100 originally reported. Lubomir Mukha, the head of EMERCOM in Chukotka, stated,

“Numbers of marine mammal hunters and members of the nature-ethnic park, Beringia, say that now in the ice, there are no more than 12 animals in captivity. Only one polynya remains open, whereas previously there were at least five.”

If the hunters are right, that means that up to 88 Beluga whales may have already escaped. This is good news, as the channel is continuing to freeze up. For the 12 whales that remain, there is also good news: scientists at the Chukotka Fishery Research Center think that there is enough food in the channel to sustain the pod of whales until January.

News Links

“Update: Sad News for Trapped Beluga Whales,” Care2

“White whale rescue operation suspended,” UPI



Mia Bennett

Mia Bennett is pursuing a PhD in Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She received her MPhil (with Distinction) in Polar Studies from the University of Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute, where she was a Gates Scholar.

Mia examines how climate change is reshaping the geopolitics of the Arctic through an investigation of scientific endeavors, transportation and trade networks, governance, and natural resource development. Her masters dissertation investigated the extent of an Asian-Arctic region, focusing on the activities of Korea, China, and Japan in the circumpolar north. Mia's work has appeared in ReNew Canada, Water Canada, FACTA, and Baltic Rim Economies, among other publications.

She speaks French, Swedish, and is learning Russian.

Follow her on Twitter @miageografia