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Russia To Free Almost 100 Whales Kept In 'Cruel' Conditions

Almost 100 whales held in cages in Russia's Far East will be freed, according to Russian media reports, after an outcry over their cramped living conditions.

Russian authorities have decided to free almost 100 whales held in cages in Russia's Far East, the TASS news agency reported.

Images of the whales, kept in cramped enclosures in a bay near the port town of Nakhodka, triggered a wave of criticism since appearing last year.

The decision to release the whales coincided with a visit to the enclosures by French oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of famous marine expert Jacques Cousteau.

An aerial view of pools in the marine animals adaptation centre where illegally caught 11 orcas and 90 belugas that were to be sold to Chinese amusement parks are being kept, in Srednyaya Bay near the city of Nakhodka in Russia's Far East. Photo: Getty.

"An official decision has been taken to release all the animals into the wild," Primorsky region governor Oleg Kozhemyako was quoted as saying by TASS on Monday.

"Scientists from Cousteau's team and Russian scientists will decide when and which animals to release."

The animals were originally caught by a company which planned to sell them to China. But once their fate became known, the Kremlin intervened and ordered local authorities to act to find a way of freeing the animals.

One of the orcas kept in cruel conditions. Photo: Getty.

Kozhemyako was also cited as saying that the authorities would set up a special rehabilitation facility for the whales.

The Kremlin has said the 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales were held in cruel conditions and were intended for sale to aquariums and Chinese buyers.

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But it has also said that it is difficult to release them into the wild without harming them.

Russia's FSB security service brought charges against four companies involved in the case in February for breaking fishing laws.