Thursday, 28 June 2018

World’s first sanctuary for beluga whales to open in Iceland

21 June 2018

By Chris Baraniuk

An open water sanctuary for two beluga whales is to be opened in Iceland next year – the first project of its kind.

Conservation charity Sea Life Trust has spent six years developing a plan to bring the 12 year-old belugas, nicknamed “Little White” and “Little Grey”, from captivity in China to an open water refuge.

Last year, Klettsvik Bay in Iceland’s Westman islands, the location for the film Free Willy, was chosen as the site for a 32,000 square-metre sea pen that will become home to the whales. Building work in the bay has already begun and is expected to be completed in March next year.
Sea Life Trust says it has recently received the crucial authorisation it needs to move the whales in spring 2019 from Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, where they are still performing for visitors.

presentation about the sanctuary project posted online says the whales, which have a life expectancy of between 35 and 50 years in the wild, will always be restricted to the sea pen: “Our Belugas will never be able to be released due to their dependency on humans, we simply want to retire them from public performances in line with our values.”
The whales are currently being introduced to equipment such as stretchers to prepare them for transportation. They are also being trained to hold their breath under water for longer and swim faster so that they will better cope with tides and currents at the sanctuary.

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