Last year, a group working to protect sea animals rescued two beluga whales from an aquarium in China and flew them to Iceland. The belugas have now been moved into a protected ocean area off the coast of Iceland.
SEA LIFE Trust is a group working to protect the world’s oceans and the animals that live in them. One of SEA LIFE Trust’s big projects is creating an open water beluga sanctuary – a protected part of the ocean where the animals are safe from boats, illegal fishing, and other threats.
Now the group is one step away from releasing two 13-year-old belugas into its sanctuary.
The two beluga whales, named Little Grey and Little White, have had a busy life since they were taken from the ocean in 2011. The pair were part of a research program in Russia before they were bought by Changfeng Ocean World, an aquarium in Shanghai, China.
At the aquarium, the whales were trained to perform tricks for visitors. In 2012, the aquarium was bought by a company called Merlin Entertainment. The new owners didn’t want to keep the belugas in captivity, and began working with SEA LIFE Trust to move the belugas to Iceland.
SEA LIFE Trust knew rescuing Little White and Little Grey wouldn’t be easy. The whales are about 13 feet (4 meters) long and weigh almost 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms). The rescue was carefully planned by a team of ocean life experts and veterinarians.
The whales began their trip in June, 2019. They were moved into special holding tanks, and then taken by truck to an airplane for their 5,600 mile (9,000 kilometer) trip from China to Iceland. During the 12-hour flight, veterinarians kept careful watch on the belugas.
Once the plane landed in Iceland, Little Grey and Little White took another truck ride, followed by a boat ride, to reach Heimaey Island, off the south coast of Iceland.
The pair spent the next year in special pools designed to help prepare them for life in the sea. The goal was for them to learn to be more like wild belugas.
The team taught them how to hold their breath longer – a skill needed in the ocean. They also helped the belugas gain weight, so they had more fat to protect them from the cold, Icelandic water.
On August 8, Little Grey and Little White were taken to a special holding area in the icy waters of Klettsvik Bay – their first taste of the sea in almost 10 years. The two will stay in this holding pool while they get used to living in the sea.
Because Little Grey and Little White have spent most of their lives being cared for by people, they probably couldn’t survive by themselves in the wide open ocean.
Soon, they will be released into the open water sanctuary. It’s the next best thing – a huge protected area of real ocean. Klettsvik Bay will be home to Little Grey and Little White for the rest of their lives. Experts say they could live to be around 40 years old.
Did You Know…?
SEA LIFE Trust says that there are about 300 beluga whales still in captivity. They’re hoping to bring more belugas to their sanctuary in Iceland.
This map has not been loaded because of your cookie choices. To view the content, you can accept 'Non-necessary' cookies.