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Action man Vladimir Putin shoots a whale (but only for scientific research) in latest macho photo opportunity

By Mail Foreign Service

Action man: Russia's Prime MinisterVladimir Putin prepares to shoot darts from a crossbow at a grey whale off Russia's Pacific Coast

He's been pictured shooting a tiger, flying a fighter plane and riding bare-chested on a horse.

Now in the latest of his man-versus-nature stunts designed to cultivate the image of a macho leader, Vladimir Putin has been photographed braving rough seas in a rubber dinghy to fire darts from a crossbow at a grey whale.

'I hit it at the fourth try!' a beaming Putin, kitted out in black-and-orange waterproof suit and black beanie, yelled to a camera crew from the boat.

A biologist with the Russian Prime Minister displayed the skin sample and said it would allow experts to determine where the whale came from.

When the boat skidded onto the beach, at the Kronotsky reserve off Russia's Pacific Coast, a bouyant Putin hopped off and made a beeline for waiting reporters.

Clearly in his element, Putin replied jovially to a question as to whether the endeavour was dangerous.

'Living in general is dangerous,' he quipped. Asked why he got involved, he simply said, 'Because I like it. I love the nature.'

Putin's whaling experience was shown on television, where Russians have become accustomed to seeing him involved with endangered animals.

Photo opportunity: Putin was taking part in a research project in order to identify which population grey whales in the region were from

Buoyant: Putin prepares to take aim on board the rubber boat at the Kamchatka Peninsula

In April he attached a satellite-tracking collar on a tranquilized polar bear. He also has shot a Siberian tiger with a tranquilizer gun and released leopards into a wildlife sanctuary.

But environmentalists were not impressed with his latest expedition.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) issued a statement criticising 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.

Expedition: The latest stunt comes as Putin prepares to run in the 2012 presidential elections

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

Putin, during his eight years as president and the past two as prime minister, has learned to use television to cultivate the image of a rugged leader beloved by the Russian people.

His mastery of the medium has been on full display in recent weeks as he has taken command of efforts to extinguish the wildfires that swept across much of western Russia and to help the thousands of people who lost their homes.

The message has been that it is Putin, rather than his junior co-leader President Dmitry Medvedev, who is equipped to look after Russia, its people and environment.

Putin has been canny about his plans to run in the 2012 presidential election, but has excluded running against Medvedev, saying the two will come to an agreement.

Whatever the decision, his action-man lifestyle shows he is not about to recede from public view.

He has been photographed fishing bare-chested in Russia's Altai region, and was shown on television diving into an icy river and swimming the butterfly stroke.

Whether it is being decked out in furs on horseback, fishing bare-chested or helping to tag a tiger, the Russian Prime Minister has always been keen to bolster his image as a man of action. He has also been pictured swimming in a river, tagging a polar bear and in July was seen riding a Harley Davidson trike for a meeting with Russian and Ukrainian bikers at their camp in the Crimea

source :dailymail