Captive belugas travel 6,000 miles to freedom

Two female belugas go from performing in a Chinese aquarium to frolicking in a bay in Iceland. The…
Belugas Little White and Little Grey

Two female belugas go from performing in a Chinese aquarium to frolicking in a bay in Iceland.

The two beluga whales, Little Grey and Little White, haven’t seen the sea for nearly a decade. Back in 2011, they lived at Russian research centre for whales until they moved to Chengfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, China. There, they performed shows for guests.

But now, they have travelled 6,000 carefully executed miles to freedom.

A sanctuary in Iceland

In Iceland, Klettsvik Bay holds the first open water sanctuary in the world dedicated to belugas. SEA LIFE Trust, a marine conservation charity that works globally but is based out of the UK, runs the sanctuary.

The Beluga Whale Sanctuary is brand new. SEA LIFE Trust built it in part with a donation from the UK-based Merlin Entertainments. This organization bought Chengfeng Ocean World in 2012 and decided to give the two belugas a new home. Belugas are not endangered whales, but they do encounter the threats of climate change, hunting, and whaling.

Finally, the 12-year-old belugas have completed their journey.

Good news for all belugas

But the news isn’t just good for Little Grey and Little White. The head of SEA LIFE Trust, Andy Bool, suggested some possible far-reaching implications of their release to the sanctuary:

Little White and Little Grey really are ambassadors for the 300 other beluga whales that are in human care across the world. It was 1,400 metres out here today, the last leg of this journey into the bay. But it’s a giant leap forward for how we can care for these animals in a natural setting.

Andy Bool

This leap forward goes beyond setting an example and includes the research the conservators are conducting. They are working towards having hard evidence to inspire those in charge of the care of other beluga whales:

So we hope to show that Little White and Little Grey thrive in this bay, and we’re conducting a welfare study, the research study, alongside this whole journey they’ve been on, that will hopefully show that there’s a welfare benefit to being in a natural environment like this.

Andy Bool

Caring for belugas

Ideally, the study’s results will persuade others that beluga whales will live happier and healthier lives if they are looked after in a place like the Klettsvik Bay open water sanctuary: an open, natural environment where they can feel the sun on their backs, not a closed aquarium where they perform for guests.

Carers and veterinarians are monitoring Little White and Little Grey as they acclimatize to the smaller “med pool”. Soon, they will be swimming in the open water of their new larger home.

Watch their journey and their release in the Independent’s video.

Article source: Independent

Featured image source: Independent

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