Russia's Putin dons wet suit, tags Beluga whale

Fri Jul 31, 2009 1:27pm EDT
 
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KHABAROVSK, Russia (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a judo black belt who last year shot a tiger, on Friday demonstrated his softer side by donning a wet suit and tagging a whale.

During a trip to Russia's Far East, Putin waded into the Pacific Ocean and attached a satellite tracking tag to a Beluga whale named Dasha as scientists looked on, the government said in a statement.

"She won't eat us will she?" Putin asked. He then attached the device to the whale, which was held in place by a net, as part of research into the Beluga's migration pattern, ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

Putin patted the whale and said "don't be angry," before helping scientists release her, state owned news agency RIA reported. He then fed fish to some other Belugas.

Last year Putin was feted by Russian media for saving a television crew from an attack by a Siberian tiger in the wilds of the far east by shooting it with a tranquilizer gun.

The former KGB spy cultivated a macho image during his eight years as president before stepping down last year.

Putin, 56, made it into glossy magazines across the world two years ago by baring his muscular torso for photographers while on a fishing trip.

Putin tagged the whale on Chkalov island, 700 kilometers (440 miles) northeast of the city of Khabarovsk, where he attended the launch of a new natural gas pipeline on Friday.

(Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton;)