Two Beluga Whales Are Rescued From Performing As Show Animals In A Chinese Aquarium

Rehoming animals is a tough job that requires a lot of responsibility. But taking two whales to a new continent in the middle of a global pandemic is about as hard as it gets.

Nevertheless, it’s done. Two belugas, Little Grey and Little White, are enjoying their first taste of the sea since 2011, thanks to a relocation project that has been years in the making.

Both of them were captured off the coast of Russia when they were still very young and have spent and spent years performing in a Chinese aquarium.

Now, the two are getting used to Beluga Whale Sanctuary, run by British charity Sea Life Trust, in Iceland.

Image credits: SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary

The charity stated that the two 12-year-old females arrived safely at Klettsvik Bay, where they will stay in a bayside care pool for a short period of time to acclimatize before being released into the wider sanctuary.

Image credits: The Press Association

Klettsvik Bay is the world’s first open water sanctuary for belugas.

“It’s been quite the journey for these two,” Audrey Padgett, the Beluga Whale Sanctuary’s general manager, told CNN on a video call. “It hasn’t been easy, but it’s definitely been a labor of love.”

Image credits: The Press Association

In 2011, Little Grey and Little White were transferred from a Russian research facility to the Changfeng Ocean World aquarium in Shanghai. The following year, however, Merlin Entertainments, a company opposed to keeping whales and dolphins in captivity, bought the aquarium and the idea of taking the whales back to the sea was born.

According to Padgett, the belugas’ new home is a much “larger, natural environment” with lots of potential benefits.

Image credits: SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary

She said there are more than 300 belugas in captivity around the world.

“Some belugas are in cramped and unsuitable conditions,” Padgett added. “And if what we can learn here from Little White and Little Grey can help improve welfare for other animals … that’s really the point.”

Image credits: SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary

Image credits: SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary

Padgett highlighted that moving two belugas was no easy task. They each weigh a little more than a ton (2,000 pounds) and consume around 110 pounds of fish per day between them. The operation required specially designed equipment, veterinarians, and a whole lot of water and ice to keep them hosed down.

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Little Grey and Little White had bespoke “stretchers” or slings to move them overland, and the team did “practice runs” to get them used to being moved via trucks, tugboats, and cranes, Padgett explained.  “If you’re trying to take your cat or your dog somewhere, you want them to have a positive association with travel … We had to make the belugas a comfortable as possible.”

Image credits: SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary

After their arrival in Iceland, the whales were kept in a care facility with a quarantine pool for several months, allowing them to adjust to the colder Icelandic environment. Though the final part of the journey from the care facility to the sanctuary was a lot shorter than the 6,000-mile trip from Chengfeng Ocean World, the pandemic complicated it significantly.

“We’re already in a pretty remote location here in Iceland. It affected our ability to get experts here to help us with the move. It affected our ability to get supplies and just the length of time it took to do things,” Padgett said.

Image credits: ABC News

“We also needed to protect our staff and put them into quarantine, because we need our people to take care of our animals.”

Little Grey and Little White’s odyssey still isn’t over. They are currently in an “acclimatization space” within the sanctuary. Padgett said, however, that they will have freedom over the sanctuary any day now.

Image credits: ABC News

Image credits: ABC News

Image credits: ABC News

Image credits: ABC News

Image credits: ABC News

Image credits: The Press Association

To learn more about the operation, check out the video below

Image credits: ABC News

Here’s what the people have been saying about it

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