Captive orca and beluga whales held in a so-called whale prison in Russia's far east are set to be freed by authorities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been criticised by international film stars in a case that has seen charges brought against the owners of four companies accused of keeping the animals in desperately cramped conditions.
A hundred whales have been held in cages in Russia’s far east by companies with a history of illegally capturing and selling animals to amusement parks.
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.
Images of the whales, kept in cramped enclosures in Srednyaya Bay, near the Sea of Japan port town of Nakhodka, first appeared last year, causing a wave of criticism, with Russian media nicknaming it a “whale prison”.
Many people have protested over the treatment of the animals.
Animal rights activist Nina Zyryanova tried to take a picture of the whales to post on social media in hopes of helping to prompt their release. She claims that she was roughly stopped by a security man.
“He crawls into my car, grabs a flash drive, throws the camera at my feet and starts to run away,” she said.
Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio took to his Twitter page and asked his 19 million followers to sign a petition demanding the animals’ release.
"Please sign this petition and join me in speaking out against the inhumane capture of orcas and belugas in Russia," he wrote on February 26.
He wrote a follow-up post on Monday thanking the more than 900,000 people who had signed the petition.
"Let’s keep up the momentum and ensure that these whales are released back into the wild where they belong," he said.