First arrivals will travel from Shanghai, China in 2019.
Two beluga whales will set off from an aquarium in China to a sanctuary in Iceland billed as the first of its kind for cetaceans. The two 12-year-old female belugas, named Little Grey and Little White, currently reside at Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai. In 2019, will make the more than 8,000-kilometre trip by land, air and sea next spring to Heimaey, an island off southern Iceland.
The SEA LIFE Trust, working in conjunction with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) charity, said the 32,000 square metre inlet at Klettsvik Bay was selected to provide a more natural sub-Arctic habitat for the whales. Their new home in the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary will also have a care facility and visitor centre.
"It's a world first. It's the first time anybody has built a whale sanctuary like this," said Andy Bool, head of the SEA LIFE Trust. "It's really important for Little White and Little Grey, providing them with a more natural home in which to live out the rest of their lives."
The two whales are being prepared for the long journey to the cool North Atlantic waters with fast swims to increase their strength and exercises to hold their breath underwater for longer. They are eating more calories and are being introduced to stretchers that will be used for the journey.
Campaigners hope the sanctuary will encourage entertainment parks to release whales and dolphins into more natural environments. "We believe this will inspire other facilities to move their belugas and other whales and dolphins to sanctuaries in other parts of the world," said Cathy Williamson, WDC captivity campaign manager.