Russian authorities have ordered the release of nearly 100 beluga and orca whales that were held captive in small cages in Russia’s Far East  after months of public outcry.

President Vladimir Putin stated that a total of 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales were kept captive in cruel conditions in Srednyaya Bay near the port town of Nakhodka, according to a report by Reuters.


Captive orcas and belugas in Srednyaya Bay by YURI SMITYUK

The images of the whales cramped in small enclosures first sparked outrage last year. It has been reported by several local media that they were intended to be sold to aquariums, Chinese marine parks, and other Chinese buyers.

According to Forbes, there has been evidence proving that about four companies are in-charge of the whale enclosures. Russia’s federal security service, FSB (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnoti), charged the companies last Monday for breaking fishing laws, reported TASS.

Novaya Gazeta, an investigative newspaper in Russia, has reported that there are records showing that the four companies have exported 13 orcas to China between 2013 to 2016. A report by Forbes shows that the companies have permission to capture 13 orcas per year for scientific purposes, but the amounting number of captive animals was enough to prosecute them.

“Expertise showed that the animals were kept in unsatisfactory conditions, and must be released into their natural habitat,” FSB stated.

“The Russian Presidential Administration’s Control Directorate will deal with the issue and keep it under its special control,” said Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has told reports on Tuesday, according to TASS, a Russian state news agency.

The news broke out in most countries all over the world and received outrage even from prominent celebrities and activists.

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio took it on social media that led him to garner more than 900,000 signatures to call out and stop the maltreatment of animals. “Join me in speaking out against the inhumane capture of orcas and belugas in Russia,” posted DiCaprio on Twitter.

Even actress Pamela Anderson wrote and posted an open letter to Putin on her website. “News about the ‘whale jail’ near Nakhodka, the icy conditions, and the suffering of the orca and beluga whales is causing internation concern,” she wrote.

“There are very small chain-link pens, 12 to 15 baby whales are put there and have to be on top of each other,” activist Nina Zyryanova told the AP. “Although these animals are native to the Arctic, they must move, hundred kilometers a day, to stay warm.”


Captive beluga whales in Srednyaya Bay by YURI SMITYUK

CBS News reported that the Ministry of Natural Resources recently held a meeting and concluded the “importance of minimizing further harm to animals during efforts to return them to their natural environment.”