Iceland opens world’s first deep-sea beluga sanctuary


Iceland has been so under the radar in recent years, from a tourism perspective. (Insert a sarcasm emoji.) Finally, however, strangers have a reason to visit.

This spring, the world’s first open-water beluga sanctuary opened in Klettsvik Bay on Heimaey Island, which lies just off the south coast of Iceland between Reykjavik and Vik. And on June 19, the Beluga Sanctuary will receive its first two belugas: Little Gray and Little White. Between August 1 and October 30, you can take a boat trip on the bay to see the whales (tickets start at around $ 50). Meanwhile, the visitor’s center has a large aquarium and puffin sanctuary that are already open for business (tickets start at around $ 28.50 USD; no boat trip required).

Little Gray and Little White are both 12-year-old female beluga whales from Russia, measuring around 13 feet long and weighing around 2,000 pounds – roughly the size of a Clydesdale, just long instead of tall. This is about the average size of female beluga whales (males are larger). They eat herring and capelin, small cold-water fish that largely live on plankton. According to the shrine, Little Gray is the more outgoing of the two: playful, curious, eager to learn, and with a rather mischievous side. She likes to spit water on her masters. Little White is more shy and reserved in comparison, but she too enjoys playing with her owners once she gets to know them.

Beluga whales are able to dive to over 2,000 feet, but generally stay about 60 feet below the ocean’s surface. The Beluga Sanctuary is 9 meters deep, but about 34,455 square feet, or about six football fields, which is a massive increase from the Sea World-like conditions that whales have experienced throughout their lifetimes. ‘adult. Both were taken captive as infants and spent years in pools performing at Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, China’s first marine aquarium.

Sea Life Trust has spent the past seven years figuring out the logistics for the whale’s next voyage. First, Little Gray and Little White will be transported from Chengfeng Ocean World by truck to one of Shanghai’s two international airports. Then they will be flown 5,581 miles to Keflavik Airport in Iceland. Then another truck will take them to a ferry terminal, and the ferry will transport them the last few kilometers to Heimaey Island. Klettsvik Bay, by the way, is where Save Willy was filmed; you may remember the eponymous whale from that movie heroically leaping to freedom, but in real life, captive-bred whales are unlikely to survive in the wild.

Little White and Little Gray undergo special training to acclimate them to the equipment and conditions of their trip so that they experience as little stress as possible. They also gradually acclimatize to colder waters – belugas are arctic whales, but their new Icelandic habitat will be much colder than the reservoirs they have become accustomed to – so they will eat more and pack in the excess fat they have. have to need. We are a happy couple of whales.

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