Little Grey and Little White move into open ocean sanctuary

Posted by Imogen Searra on 29 September 2020

Two beluga whales who have become famous for their transition from captivity to freedom, have taken their first swim in their new home in Iceland.

Little Grey and Little White were kept in captivity in a Chinese water park where they spent most of their adult life.

The relocation operation has been a collaborative effort between the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) along with the SEA LIFE Trust.

Both cetaceans were successfully transported from China to Iceland and were first kept in a smaller area of the sanctuary in order to acclimatise.

Iceland is the first country in the world to create a whale sanctuary. After careful monitoring by the whales’ expert care team, the pair were released for the first time into the larger sanctuary.

The animals are free to explore the natural surroundings of the wider sanctuary at Klettsvik Bay on Heimaey, one of the Westman Islands off the south coast of Iceland.

‘The whales have been making good progress since moving to their bayside care pools in August and Little Grey and Little White’s first swim out in the wider bay is part of a carefully managed welfare programme to help introduce the whales gradually into their much larger sanctuary home,’ said WDC in a statement. 

‘Led by their expert care team, the ‘Little Steps’ programme will see the whales continue to be introduced to the bay (which is approximately 32,000 sqm with a depth of up to 10m – which is equivalent of the size of 17 tennis courts) and return to the sea sanctuary care pools over a short period of time while their health and well-being is assessed and monitored on a daily basis.’

Andy Bool, Head of SEA LIFE Trust, said: ‘We’re absolutely thrilled by the progress that Little Grey and Little White have made since moving to their bayside care pools. They are feeding and acclimatising 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.’

The Beluga Whale Sanctuary, operated by charity the SEA LIFE Trust, is the first of its kind and was built with the support of a generous donation from Merlin Entertainments.

Created in partnership with WDC, the SEA LIFE TRUST Beluga Whale Sanctuary is one of the biggest developments in captive whale and dolphin care and protection in decades and the first of its kind to be created for cetaceans.

Cathy Williamson, WDC’s End Captivity programme leader said; ‘We’re delighted that Little Grey and Little White are now exploring the wider bay and adapting well to their new, natural, stimulating environment. WDC has been on this journey with Merlin Entertainments and the SEA LIFE Trust from the beginning and we are truly honoured to be a partner to the world’s first whale sanctuary. As well as providing an exciting home for Little Grey and Little White, we look forward to welcoming other belugas here and encouraging the development of sanctuaries in other parts of the world.’

She continued: ‘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. As the documentary will reveal, many people have worked very hard to make the sanctuary a reality and take the first bold steps to helping bring about an end to the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity for human entertainment.’

Little Grey and Little White’s amazing journey back to the ocean will be told as part of a new two-part feature length documentary to be shown on ITV this October over consecutive nights, showing the complexities and dedication around the world-first project with comedian and animal lover John Bishop an integral part of the two-year mission.

Image credit: Twitter/ @whalesorg






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