(TMU) – Two adorable beluga whales were brimming over with enthusiasm and joy when they were freed from captivity in a Chinese aquarium and taken to their new home in the open seas of the North Atlantic.
The 12-year old female belugas Little Grey and Little White (Xiao Hui and Xiao Bai) were born in the wild near Russia but were captured when they were only two years old.
They were eventually forced to perform for almost a decade as an attraction at Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai where they performed tricks and shows before human audiences to get their daily meals.
Prior to their move, they were at a research center in Russia.
Beluga whales are beautiful and gentle creatures that are among the most vocal aquatic mammals known to man, earning the nickname “canaries of the sea.” They are famous for their expressive musical vocalizations and funny facial gestures. However, many belugas they have long suffered exploitation and abuse to entertain humans.
But after Merlin Entertainment, which operates Madame Tussauds and Legoland, purchased Ocean World Zoo, they immediately sought to relocate the two whales to more suitable and permanent homes, reports BBC.
British conservation charity Sea Life Trust stepped up to assist the two belugas in the transition to their new home, which lies 6,000 miles in Iceland at the world’s first open water beluga sanctuary in Klettsvik Bay, on the island of Heimaey.
“We have been working with Little White and Little Grey for the last 18 months to make sure that they will be prepared and ready for the long journey,” said Sea Life Trust head Andy Bool.
The two whales’ voyage took place by truck and ferry, as well as a Boeing 747-400ERF cargo aircraft that hauled them while they were protected by specialized slings.
Having safely arrived in Iceland, Sea Life Trust is now carefully preparing them for their new lives in the sprawling sanctuary.
Underwater fun 🐳
It won't be long until Little White and Little Grey will have a whole new playground, which means lots of underwater fun to be had! pic.twitter.com/gEqX6wNRvc
— Beluga Whale Sanctuary (@BelugaSanctuary) August 3, 2020
“We’re absolutely delighted to be able to share the news that Little Grey and Little White are safely in their sea sanctuary care pools and are just one step away from being released into their open water home,” Bool explained.
“Following extensive planning and rehearsals, the first stage of their release back to the ocean was as smooth as we had hoped and planned for,” he added.
In a statement, Sea Life Trust said:
“Little Grey and Little White are now in their bayside care pool and will need a short period of time to acclimatize to their new natural environment and all the outdoor elements before their final release into the wider sanctuary in Klettsvik Bay in the Westman Islands off the south coast of Iceland.
“The expert team and the independent vets were with Little Grey and Little White throughout the move and said they are healthy and are feeding after the short trip from their landside care facility back to the sea.”
The bay, which the charity describes as providing “a more natural sub-Arctic environment and wilder habitat for these amazing whales to call home,” was also home to the late orca Keiko from the Free Willy film franchise.
UPDATE 🐳We can now announce the fantastic news that Little White & Little Grey are safely in the bay! They will stay in the sea sanctuary care pools for a short amount of time to acclimatise until they are ready to move out into the wider bay. Stay tuned for our next update!
Posted by SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary on Sunday, August 9, 2020
Keiko, a 1990s icon for the suffering of captive cetaceans, was released at the bay in 2002, but died only 18 months after swimming to Norway and catching pneumonia.
In this case, the nearly 104,900 sq. ft. (32,000 sq. m.) bay will be netted off to protect the two girls. Due to their long spell in captivity, Little Grey and Little White are unlikely to survive in the wild on their own.
Beluga whales are known to lead extremely social lives, and travel in relatively large pods while in the wild. They are also known to switch between groups regularly.
However, belugas also lead tough lives as natural prey for polar bears and orcas, as well as humans who have hunted them for the purpose of exploit them as either a source of food or entertainment for monetary gain.
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