Two beluga whales from the Chang Feng Ocean World aquarium in Shanghai have completed a 6,000 mile journey to their new home ‒ a specially constructed marine sanctuary in Iceland ‒ where they will see out their days.
The sanctuary has been set up by Merlin Entertainment,as reported in Attractions Management, Issue 1 2019.
It's run by Sea Life Trust.
The 32,000sq m (344,000sq ft) inlet at Klettsvik Bay on Heimaey Island in southern Iceland has a sub-Arctic environment that is similar to the whales' natural habitat. The bay, which was used to house Keiko, the orca seen in Free Willy
, has been netted to create a sea pen for the animals, as they would not be able to survive in the wild after their years of captivity.
Transporting the 900kg beluga whales, whose names are Little Grey and Little White, from Shanghai to Iceland has called for special arrangements: custom-made slings designed to the whales' exact physical requirements held the whales in tailored containers as they flew on a uniquely branded Cargolux aeroplane, which touched down in Iceland on 19 June. The journey was completed by lorry, and as of 20 June, the belugas have been getting used to their new surroundings.
Throughout the journey, Little Grey and Little White were monitored by care teams to ensure their comfort, and they will continue to be regularly assessed by veterinary experts as they acclimatise to their new home.
A statement on Sea Life Trust's website said the animals would undergo a 40-day quarantine period. "Little Grey and Little White are both doing well after such a long and complicated journey and they have started to acclimatise and feed in their new care pool," the statement added.
The whales came into Merlin Entertainment's hands following its acquisition of the Living and Leisure Australia Group in 2012, which owned Chang Feng Ocean World. Operating more than 50 Sea Life aquariums, one of Merlin’s founding beliefs was that cetaceans should not be held in captivity for entertainment purposes. It worked with the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) to identify and set up the new sanctuary.
Little Grey and Little White are both 13-year-old belugas, and the hope is that they will live for several more decades (life expectancy in the wild is 40 to 60 years), enjoying a habitat that is vastly larger than they have become used to in captivity. The sanctuary can comfortably accommodate around 10 animals, so Merlin hopes that other attractions will seek to retire their whales to the site.
Cathy Williamson, captivity campaign manager for WDC, said that conservationists were "hoping that our sanctuary project will provide a blueprint for the development of sanctuaries in other parts of the world".