Russia's Putin braves rough seas to study whales

PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, Russia Fri Aug 27, 2010 11:23am EDT

1 of 2. Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (C) holds a crossbow as he hunts for whales from a motorboat in Olga Bay in the Sea of Japan, August 25, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Ria Novosti/Pool/Alexei Druzhinin

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PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, Russia (Reuters) - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin braved rough seas to help scientists study whales off Russia's Pacific coast on Wednesday but was rebuked by environmentalists for allowing oil exploration nearby.

Putin, a Judo black-belt who has been filmed shooting a tiger and flying a fighter plane, shot a grey whale with an adapted crossbow from a rubber dinghy to take a sample of its skin in his latest action-man photo-op.

"I missed three times but hit on the fourth," said Putin, holding up the skin sample. "It's a great feeling."

The sample, taken at the Kronotsky reserve 300 kilometers (190 miles) northeast of Vladivostok will be used to help scientists tell which population the whales come from, Putin said.

But environmentalists were not impressed. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) issued a statement criticizing Putin for staging an event to highlight his save-the-whale credentials while state-controlled oil-firm Rosneft threatens a population nearby.

"As Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today helped scientists research the gray whale... Rosneft, continues its two-month seismic survey in the nearby shallow waters off Sakhalin Island... which gravely threatens a subpopulation of those same whales," IFAW said in a statement.

Rosneft, managed by close allies of Putin, is undertaking seismic surveys to the east of Russia's Sakhalin island, blasting sound at the sea bed to map its geology.

Environmentalists say the surveys disturb female whales who rely on a strip of shallow water teach their calves to feed.

(Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Noah Barkin) (conor.humphries@thomsonreuters.com; +7495-7751242)

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