World first: Formerly captive Beluga whales now tasting freedom in sanctuary off Iceland

It’s been a long time coming, but Little White and Little Grey are finally living life as Beluga whales were meant to — in the open ocean.

The belugas have taken a long road — which also included flights and boats — to get here.

The pair was first snatched from the wild by a Russian whale research facility, then spent years performing at an aquarium in China, as conservationists worked for almost as long trying to free them.

In August, the whales, now about 13-years-old, made it to Iceland’s Westman Islands where the Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary created the world’s first such sanctuary for belugas.

And now, Little Grey and Little White successfully explored the wider sanctuary at Klettsvik Bay on Heimaey, one of the Westman Islands off the south coast of Iceland.
Little Grey and Little Whale upon arrival at the Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary. Photo: Sea Life Trust/Twitter
Andy Bool, Head of SEA LIFE Trust, said the entire group is “absolutely thrilled by the progress” the formerly captive belugas have made.
A better life for belugas. Photo: Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary/Twitter
“They are feeding and acclimating well to the more natural surroundings as well as all of the outdoor elements. We are introducing them gradually to the bay in little steps, but seeing them swim together and deep dive amongst the flora and fauna of the wider bay for the first time was amazing to witness and gave us a real sense that Little Grey and Little White are enjoying being back in the sea,” Bool said in a statement released Sunday.
Cathy Williamson, Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s end captivity programme lead, said she hopes other belugas will be able to make the sanctuary home and that this initiative will help create more sanctuaries.

Her group helped spearhead this project, along with Merlin Entertainment which took over the Shanghai indoor aquarium where Little Grey and Little Whale lived for so many years.

“We hope this will mean that many of the more than 3,500 whales and dolphins held in captivity for shows and swim with attractions can be brought to sanctuaries to live more natural lives or be rehabilitated for a return to the wild,” Williamson added over the weekend.
The whales have been doing well since moving to their bayside care pools and their first swim into the wider bay is is part of a detailed plan to acclimatize them to their wider home.

Their expert care team will continue to monitor their health and well-being as they slowly get used to their new environment.
First swim for Little White and Little Grey. Photo: Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary

A documentary about their lives is set to be released next month.

Photos Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary

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Recovering newspaper reporter.

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