The world’s first open-sea beluga whale sanctuary is set to open in Iceland this month.
The Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary will soon have two residents, Little Gray and Little White. The 12-year-old female belugas were taken into captivity from Russian seas to perform at Shanghai Changfeng’s Ocean World.
Little Grey is a playful and curious whale who has a mischievous side to her personality, whilst Little White is a little shy in comparison, Sea Life Trust says.
Both whales will soon embark on a 6,000-mile journey from China to Iceland via plane, ferry, and truck.
The complex logistics of their transport has been planned by a team of global experts. Every leg of the journey has been tailored, including custom stretchers, specially built transportation tanks, and a specially chartered cargo plane. It is estimated that the journey will take approximately 30 hours.
Their destination is Klettsvik Bay, a 32,000 square-meter bay on Heimaey Island. It is located on the southern coast of Iceland.
Klettsvik Bay offers a natural sea inlet that replicates belugas’ original subarctic habitat and remains naturally protected from the elements. The secluded bay will be enclosed with netting that stretches from the ocean bottom to the surface.
Facilities will include a landside care center as well as a visitor and education center. Pontoons floating on the surface will give trained handlers access to care for the belugas. They also double as a protective barrier to slow incoming waves.
Visitors will also have the opportunity to go out to the bay in small numbers on carefully managed boat trips but they will not be allowed get too close or moor in order to minimize disturbance. All profits gained from visitors and donors will be directed towards sustaining the sanctuary.
While Sea Life Trust assures that locals are supportive of the project, others are not pro-sanctuary.
Julie Laserre, a marine biologist and vice president of Sea Shepherd Iceland, told the Reykjavik Grapevine, “We are grateful that the Sea Life Trust offers to give better life conditions to those two belugas than the ones they had in their aquarium in China, [but] we are afraid that they are going from a captive life to another captive life with a lot of stress in addition.”
Others have questioned whether Iceland is a suitable location for the sanctuary as the country allows the practice of “sustainable whaling.”
The sanctuary was created by Sea Life Trust in partnership with Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). They maintain that their goal is to “encourage the rehabilitation of more captive whales into natural environments in the future, and one day bring an end to whale and dolphin entertainment shows.”
While Klettsvik Bay will be home to two Belugas for the moment, there is room for more. The sanctuary is ready to welcome other captive belugas released from aquariums and into their care.