Little Grey and Little White to be Released After Epic Journey From China

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Little Grey and Little White are preparing to be relocated to the world's first open water sanctuary for beluga whales (Photo: SEA LIFE Trust)

The two beluga whales rescued from captivity in a Shanghai aquarium last year are to be be released into the world’s first open water sanctuary for beluga whales in Iceland in June.

The charity SEA LIFE Trust has today confirmed that Little Grey and Little White are in their final stages of preparation and ready to be moved from their temporary landside care facility to the large sanctuary in Klettsvik Bay, a natural bay of the island of Heimaey, off the south coast of Iceland.

For the past 12 months, the whales' health and well-being have been closely monitored by a team of experts and veterinarians following their epic 6,000-mile relocation by air, land and sea from an aquarium in China. Since their safe arrival on Heimaey, the whales have been acclimatising and preparing for their return to a more natural habitat. This has included adding more blubber ready for the cool sub-Arctic water, as well as being introduced to the different flora and fauna they will experience in the bay.

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Klettsvik Bay on Heimaey in Iceland will become the location for the world's first sanctuary for beluga whales (Photo: SEA LIFE Trust)

'Little Grey and Little White have made amazing progress since arriving safely to the beluga whale sanctuary last year and we’re really pleased to say they are now ready to be moved into their new open water home,' said Andy Bool, Head of SEA LIFE Trust. 'This is a complex marine welfare project and our care team of world-leading experts have always been led by the individual needs of Little Grey and Little White. With current lockdown measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic due to be eased in the coming weeks across Iceland, it’s right that we make the best decision for Little Grey and Little White and move them into their new home. We'll continue to carefully monitor their health and well-being, as well as the ongoing situation and Icelandic weather closely, ahead of the planned move in June.'

The sanctuary measures approximately 32,000 sqm in area with a maximum depth of 10m. Created in partnership with the global marine wildlife charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), and built with the financial aid of Merlin Entertainments, the SEA LIFE TRUST Beluga Whale Sanctuary is one of the biggest developments in captive whale and dolphin care, and the first of its kind to be created for cetaceans.

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Little White and Little Grey (Photo: SEA LIFE Trust)

Transferring the two belugas to their new home will be a challenging undertaking, even though the journey from their current enclosure to the new sanctuary would only take 10 minutes by boat. Careful planning by a team of experts will see the whales transported by truck and by the harbour's tugboat and crane in a specially designed padded sling. Each whale will be moved individually in a process that is estimated to take an hour for each animal. Upon reaching the bay, the belugas will be released into three sea sanctuary 'care pools' measuring 9.6m wide and 2.5m deep.

A 24-hour watch with veterinary supervision and care on hand will be provided while the whales acclimatise their new environment. Once their health and well-being have been established, underwater gates will be opened to allow Little Grey and Little White to enter their new homes.

The full story of Little Grey and Little White's journey from China is to featured in an ITV documentary hosted by English comedian and TV presenter John Bishop. 'This has been one of the best experiences of my life,' said Bishop. 'Meeting Little White and Little Grey in Shanghai last April and following their journey, which has been far from straightforward, has been a real eye-opener about the challenges faced by these animals and the dedicated people who are working to give them a better life. This is a film about hope, despair, disappointment, tenacity, realism and dreams and as I write this I still don't know truly how it will end.'

 


 

For more information about the SEA LIFE TRUST Beluga Whale Sanctuary or to make a donation, visit www.sealifetrust.org.

 

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