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‘Living dangerously’, Putin chases whales on high seas

Wielding a crossbow and undeterred by high waves, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Wednesday chased whales off Russia’s Pacific coast and boasted of the exhilaration of “living dangerously.”

Dressed in heavy waterproofs, Putin fired arrows from an inflatable raft off the volcanic Kamchatka Peninsula at a rare grey whale to obtain a skin sample, managing to hit the animal at the fourth attempt.

The hardman antics — barely thinkable for any other world leader — were the latest stunt by Putin this summer as he travels across Russia’s Far East on a tour that has already netted eye-catching photo opportunities.

“There was a real feeling of exhilaration — I missed three times but hit on the fourth attempt,” Putin told reporters after returning to the shore after a trip of several hours that saw the boat buffeted by a rolling surf.

Television pictures showed the whale breaking the surface of the water as the premier looked on. The skin sample was successfully returned to the shore.

His guide Vladimir Burkanov, a top expert from the Pacific Ocean Institute of Oceanography, dryly commented: “We do not normally work in these conditions. The waves were very high.”

All the exploits have been exhaustively broadcast on state media, and the television showed a curious exchange with a shore-bound journalist who asked the premier why he enjoyed such extreme activities.

“I like it. I like our nature. I respect it as it does so much good,” said Putin.

“But in principle it’s dangerous!” objected the journalist.

“Living in general is dangerous,” Putin quipped.

This week alone, Putin has visited a research station inside the Arctic Circle in the Yakutia region and stood metres (yards) away from a bear munching a fish in Kamchatka.

Unlike some Russian officials, Putin has never shown any interest in hunting and has personally headed efforts to save Russia’s most endangered species.

Russia is heading for presidential elections in 2012 and speculation has been buzzing that Putin may be planning a return to the Kremlin after handing over to President Dmitry Medvedev in 2008.

His action-man travels are seen by many as an attempt by Putin to keep his profile high and remind Russians of his status as the country’s de-facto number one.

Medvedev has however also shown he is not averse to a well-chosen photo opportunity, taking tea the day earlier with Bono, the lead singer of Irish rock group U2.