Beluga Whales Smile After Rescue From Captivity in Chinese Aquarium

beluga whales

Two beluga whales from a Chinese aquarium finally reach the sea following a massive re-homing effort that took years to complete.


Reaching sanctuary: Little Grey and Little White spent most of their lives in captivity before they were successfully relocated to a sanctuary in Iceland, CNN reports.

  • Both whales were still young when they were captured off the Russian coast in 2011.
  • In the same year, the pair were moved from a Russian research facility to the Changfeng Ocean World aquarium in China.
  • In 2012, the Shanghai aquarium was purchased by Merlin Entertainments, a company against holding whales and dolphins in confinement.
  • Plans were made shortly after to take the whales back to sea. Completed during a global pandemic, the effort to transport the animals safely was an incredibly challenging task. 

A team effort: The effort involved veterinarians and an incredible amount of water and ice to keep the pair hosed down. There was also special equipment to properly lift and carry them. 

  • The transport team reportedly had to do several “practice runs” to get the whales used to being moved via trucks, tugboats and cranes.
  • Thanks to such efforts, the belugas are now free to roam the 8-acre Beluga Whale Sanctuary at Klettsvik Bay in Iceland, which is under the management of the Sea Life Trust charity.
  • “It’s been quite the journey for these two,” Beluga Whale Sanctuary general manager Audrey Padgett was quoted as saying. “It hasn’t been easy, but it’s definitely been a labor of love.”
  • According to Padgett, the sanctuary is a “larger, natural environment” with lots of potential benefits.

Transportation during the pandemic: To acclimate the belugas to the colder environment of Iceland, the whales were placed in a quarantine pool at a care facility for several months.

  • COVID-19 posed a challenge in transferring the whales from the care facility to the sanctuary.
  • “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,” said Padgett.
  • Padgett also noted the need to protect the facility’s staff and place them into quarantine.
  • Currently in an “acclimatization space” within the sanctuary, the belugas will be given time to adjust safely to their new home.
  • Once they are ready, Little Grey and Little White will be able to enjoy the full sanctuary.

Bringing awareness: Padgett shared that she hopes what they can learn from the rescued pair of belugas can bring attention to the other 300 belugas that remain in captivity globally. 

  • “Some belugas are in cramped and unsuitable conditions,” she added. 
  • Along with keeping a safe haven for the whales, their facility aims to help other people in understanding belugas better.
  • “It’s kind of the finish line for these two,” she noted, “but it’s a new chapter for belugas around the world.”

Feature Images via ABC News

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