WATCH: Whales airlifted from Chinese park to cold water sanctuary off Iceland
TWO ghostly white whales are being airlifted from a Chinese entertainments park to live out their days at the world’s first beluga sanctuary.
By Stuart Winter
The whales called Little Grey and Little White will be flown 6,000 miles to the cold waters off Iceland in what is being described as a ground-breaking project to herald the eventual end of whale and dolphin shows.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation have teamed up with the Sea Life Trust to create the open water sanctuary and the two 12 year old beluga are being slowly prepared for their new natural life in a secluded bay off Heimay, one of Iceland’s remote Westman Islands.
Because both female beluga, originally from Russia, but have been captive for so long, they can never be returned fully to the wild Arctic waters of their ancestors.
A team of cetacean experts and vets have designed a training programme for the two beluga to prepare them for their journey and for life in their 32,000 square metre sanctuary. Beluga live up to 50 years.
Besides introducing the 12-foot long beluga to the specialist stretchers that will ferry them by land, sea and air to the reserve, trainers are also teaching them how to hold their breath for diving as well as building up strength so they can cope with the tides and currents of open water.
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This is a complex and logistically challenging rehoming project of two well-loved beluga whales
A rich diet of herring and capelin will ensure they have extra blubber to insulate them in Iceland’s colder waters.
The belugas’ new lives in the North Atlantic is the result of Merlin Entertainments taking over China’s Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, with its philosophy of not keeping whales or dolphins in captivity.
Merlin Entertainments are donating towards the creation of the sanctuary with its stunning backdrop in Klettsvik Bay and which will also have a care facility as well as a visitor centre when it is completed next year.
There will be limited, discrete public viewing allowed but this will be carefully controlled to ensure the beluga are not disturbed in the natural surroundings.
Rob Hicks, director of Merlin’s animal and welfare department, said: “This is a complex and logistically challenging rehoming project of two well-loved beluga whales.
“Little Grey and Little White are highly intelligent marine mammals and are fast learners, but we are taking all precautions to protect their health and well-being.
“The aquarium team at Changfeng Ocean World have been very helpful in supporting this project and we will be helping each beluga to get ready for this landmark journey and their new environment.
“A team of vets will be with the whales at all times during transit to monitor their welfare to ensure their relocation is successful.”
Sea Life Trust is Merlin’s partner charity and is working with WDC to break new ground in marine animal welfare.
Andy Bool, head of Sea Life Trust, said: “This project has been years in the making and is a pioneering solution to how the aquarium industry can re-shape the futures of whales in captivity.
“This is a truly global effort and working with our partners, leading veterinarians and marine experts, we believe providing a more natural habitat for Little Grey and Little White to dive into cool waters and interact with the natural environment will greatly enhance their quality of life.”
Providing a new home for the two Little Grey and Little White at the Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary will hopefully lead to more captive marine mammals being rehabilitated, say conservationists.
WDC chief executive Chris Butler-Stroud said: “We have long applauded the commitment of Merlin and the Sea Life Trust to find a better, alternative future for these belugas, which is in line with our concerns about the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity around the world, and the need to find a solution for the thousands of individuals held.
“We are proud to have been a partner from the very beginning in this important project to improve beluga welfare and hope it will create a blueprint for further such sanctuaries for belugas and other captive whales and dolphins, which are desperately needed to address the risks captivity poses to whale and dolphin health and welfare.”
BBC link – including video:
First ‘retirement home’ for showbiz beluga whales
UK-based company Merlin Entertainments says it does not want to keep beluga whales in its marine parks because they suffer in captivity.
But it has been under pressure over a park in Shanghai, China, which it has owned since 2012 and where two belugas perform.
It has long promised to move the marine mammals to a more natural home. But it had been saying that there was nowhere suitable – until now, that is.
Video by Jasmine Taylor-Coleman and Jemma.
WAV Comment – Another small sign that things are changing for the better. Through never ending campaigning and awareness information; people are now dismissing the entertainment parks which hold these wonderful animals in barbaric conditions; and instead are now asking for all their kind the world over to be released back into much more natural surroundings. Captive animals such as these can never really return to the wild; but they can be provided with sanctuary which represents this for them. We welcome this project and hope that all goes well with it.
As is said quite rightly: