The world’s very first beluga sanctuary is slated to open in Iceland next year.
The open-water sanctuary will soon be home to two 12-year-old belugas named “Little White” and “Little Gray,” which will be transported from a Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, China, reports New Scientist. Being released into the ocean was not an option for beluga whales as they have relied on human care for so long. However, in their new home, the whales will no longer be required to put on shows to the public.
The project is the result of a six-year effort by Sea Life Trust, a conservation organization working to create marine life sanctuaries. The organization already owns and operates a seal sanctuary in Cornwall, UK.
The whales, which still perform for visitors to China, will be transferred to Klettsvik Bay in Iceland’s Westman Islands, the location of the 1993 film “Free Willy.” The new house will feature a 32,000 square meter marine enclosure when completed.
To prepare for the 35-hour trip, the whales have already been introduced to stretchers, allowing them to familiarize themselves with the transport equipment that will take them to their new sanctuary. In addition, they are taught to hold their breath underwater for longer periods of time, as well as to swim faster. Teaching these skills to whales will help them cope during the transition to the natural ocean environment.
Katrin Lohrengel of the Sea Watch Foundation pointed out that while the long journey can be stressful for both belugas, their social nature may play a role in helping them adapt quickly.
Evidence over the years has revealed that cetaceans, including beluga whales, may be more sensitive than previously thought. The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” told the story of SeaWorld’s captive former killer whale Tilikum and helped bring the reality of cetacean captivity to the public – the film continues to cause sales of park tickets to drop. marine. Additionally, in January, the Vancouver Aquarium announced it would no longer keep dolphins and whales in captivity, citing public pressure as one of the determining factors.
Sea Life Trust expects the beluga sanctuary to be completed by March of next year.
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