Leonardo DiCaprio is an undeniably impactful person. He’s made it nearly impossible to step onto a boat without hearing someone yell about being king of the world, he had people lining up to revisit their high-school summer reading assignment (albeit with a Baz Luhrmann twist), and he’s had a hand in making dinosaur bones the hot new must-have for ridiculously wealthy collectors. But the realm in which he’s most concerned about having an impact is the environment: His entire Twitter feed is dedicated to sharing environmental news and petitions, and, upon finally receiving his long-awaited Oscar in 2016, he spent much of his speech issuing a call to action regarding climate change.
That demonstrated impact and passion for environmentalist causes converged this week, as many are crediting DiCaprio with an order by Russian authorities to release 98 orca and beluga whales from captivity since as he had tweeted about their case just prior to Vladimir Putin and various government agencies securing their release. But how responsible is he, really, for these whales’ newfound freedom?
The link between DiCaprio and the whales stems from a tweet he penned on Tuesday, in which he retweeted a post from petition site Change.org describing the plight of the whales, which have been kept in freezing, cramped conditions off the coast of the Russian port city Nakhodka for at least a year. “Please sign this petition and join me in speaking out against the inhumane capture of orcas and belugas in Russia,” DiCaprio wrote. Within 48 hours, according to Reuters, Russian authorities had officially ordered the four companies allegedly responsible for the “whale prison” to release the sea mammals, which they’d reportedly been holding for sales to aquariums and Chinese buyers.
DiCaprio’s actual impact on the matter, however, likely comes down to that Statistics 101 concept of causation vs. correlation. The whales’ freedom may have come after DiCaprio’s tweet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his words, or the petition itself, actually caused the release. If that was the case, Pamela Anderson should also be credited with rescuing the whales, since she penned an open letter to Putin calling for their release several days before DiCaprio’s maybe-fateful tweet. But alas, per Reuters, Putin was reported to have already stepped in to take action against the “whale prison” last week, well before either DiCaprio or Anderson spoke out, and on Monday, post-letter but pre-tweet, Russian federal security service FSB reportedly brought charges against the four companies involved in order to speed up the release.
Still, DiCaprio’s tweet may actually have been the final push Russian authorities needed to finalize the release proceedings. Back in 2010, after DiCaprio attended a summit in St. Petersburg concerning rescuing tigers from extinction, despite having to make two separate emergency landings to get there, Putin paused in the middle of a prepared speech to praise the actor’s persistence and dedication to environmentalism. “A person with less stable nerves could have decided against coming, could have read it as a sign—that it was not worth going,” he said, then called DiCaprio a muzhik, colloquially used to mean a “real man.” If DiCaprio’s passion inspired the Russian president once before, it could certainly have done so again.
Whatever the case, here’s hoping DiCaprio’s next tweeted petition seeks funding for an action thriller about him and Anderson teaming up to free sea animals held in captivity around the world.