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    MOSCOW, April 23 (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna) - "Operators of the Sakhalin-2 project have admitted being the discoverers of the rare Western-Okhotsk population of grey whales," Governor of the Sakhalin Island Ivan Malakhov said at a RIA Novosti press conference. Now the oil workers literally have to pay for this scientific sensation. According to the governor, the investment company Sakhalin Energy (including the Dutch-based Shell company and the Japanese Mitsui, Mitsubishi companies) has already invested $5 million in the study of this unique population in a bid to find out how the oil infrastructure under construction can affect the animals.

    In reality, the Sakhalin Energy company is faced with far more unpleasant problems than the unexpected expenditures on grey whales. Having forgotten about the "feat of the discoverers", scientists and the Greenpeace have raised the alarm over the fate of these ancient marine animals, who account for no more than 100 in the world today. Their alarm developed into protests, and the case has been in court for more than a year but with no result.

    The plaintiff is the coalition of NGOs consisting of 50 law, environmental and other public structures from Russia and other countries. Environmentalists believe that the actions of the oil workers contradict environmental laws. Grey whales have already left the fattening areas, are losing weight and becoming less active due to the proximity of people, the noise of helicopters and of the construction equipment. "Before the Molikpak platform was raised in the sea, nobody cared how fat grey whales were or how slim, how active or not, and now we are being accused of acting against nature," said Mr. Malakhov and cited an example to prove how scrupulously the oil workers approached this problem. For example, the task has been set to use noiseless equipment to avoid disturbing the whales with noise during the excavations in the water area. Mr. Malakhov blamed the environmentalists who participated in the feasibility study of the project and approved it.

    Operators of the project are further financing the study of their unexpected sea neighbours. "It is difficult to speak of any negative influence of Molikpak today," the governor said. The oil workers are hoping for peaceful co-existence with these exotic creatures. Environmentalists, however, argue that summer 2004 will be the last summer for grey whales. It is doubtless that, if the pessimistic forecasts are true, grey whales will either have to leave the area or ... throw themselves on the shore in protest.

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