Russian weather stalls whale rescue

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More than 100 Beluga whales remain trapped between ice floes in the Chukotka region of Russia's Far East as bad weather hampers the rescue operation, the emergencies ministry said Tuesday.

"The weather still prevents a vessel sent to the scene from approaching the zone where the Belugas are trapped," a spokesman of the ministry's Chukotka branch told AFP by telephone.

"We cannot say right now when the rescue operation could start," he added.

Officials said last week that more than 100 Beluga whales became trapped by ice floes 15 kilometres (10 miles) south of the village of Yanrakynnot on the Bering Sea.

The Beluga whale, a protected species in Russia, is one of a handful of wild animals whose cause has been championed by Russian Prime Minister and nature lover Vladimir Putin.

The transport ministry said bad weather was preventing a tugboat from accessing the area and it was currently on standby.

Local authorities have said the whales risked starving and that the advance of the ice was reducing the space that they have to swim in.

The whales, which grow up to six metres (20 feet) and weigh two tonnes, can stay submerged for 25 minutes before coming to the surface to breathe.

In Russia, they live in the freezing Arctic waters of the north of the Far East as well as in the White Sea and Barents Sea in the northwest.

Whales are often trapped in the Arctic ice but rarely in such large numbers.

© 2011 AFP

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