Two beluga whales have been freed from captivity in China and transported to an open water sanctuary, where they’re swimming in the sea for the first time in nearly a decade.
Little Grey and Little White had been moved from a Russian whale research centre to Ocean World in Shanghai in 2011, where they were trained to perform tricks for visiting crowds and kept in far, far smaller spaces than creatures of their size require.
However, thanks to the efforts of British charity the Sea Life Trust, the 12-year-old pair travelled 6,000 miles to the world’s first open water sanctuary in Iceland.
Little Grey and Little White finally arrived on Friday, August 8, and are now residing in ‘their new sea sanctuary care area at Klettsvik Bay in Iceland’, according to the charity.
Andy Bool, head of Sea Life Trust, said in a statement on the charity’s website:
We’re absolutely delighted to be able to share the news that Little Grey and Little White are safely in their sea sanctuary care pools and are just one step away from being released into their wider open water home.
Following extensive planning and rehearsals, the first stage of their release back to the ocean was as smooth as we had hoped and planned for. We are carefully monitoring Little Grey and Little White with our expert care team and veterinarians and hope to announce their final release very soon.
The statement explains that the whales are in a ‘bayside care pool and will need a short period of time to acclimatise to their new natural environment and all the outdoor elements before their final release into the wider sanctuary’ in the bay, located in the Westman Islands.
Their journey was an incredible feat, going by air, land and sea to get to Iceland. In order to transport them comfortably, the two whales were placed in specially-designed slings, with an expert team and independent vets accompanying them the whole way on a lorry, Boeing 747-400ERF cargo aircraft and harbour tugboat.
Both belugas are said to be healthy and feeding after a short stint in the landside care facility, later transported back to the care pool in the sea where they’re being prepped for open water. Both whales will ‘now be assessed around the clock as they get used to being back in the ocean environment’.
The Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale sanctuary is the ‘first of its kind’, said to be one of the biggest developments in captive whale and dolphin care in decades. If you’d like to make a donation to the charity, click here.
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