The belugas were captured as babies when they were only around 2 years old from their home in the arctic waters of Russia, and sold to an aquarium in Shanghai for entertainment.
This aquarium was purchased by Merlin entertainment, who did not want to keep whales in captivity, and decided to leave them in the hands of the Sea Life Trust sanctuary, a UK based conservation charity operating from the Westman Islands in Kléttsvik bay.
After about two years in the sanctuary, Little-Gray and Little-White were moved to an open water area, but that seemed to overwhelm one of the belugas, Little White.
This urged the organisation to begin renovations on the bay, in order to create a middle-ground solution for Little-White to better adjust. It is important to get the whales to reacclimatise to their natural environment, and to help them step out of their comfort zone, the indoor pool, which resembles the enclosure they spent most of their lives in.
Fréttablaðið spoke to the director of Sea Life Trust Audrey Padgett last August, and she explained what their next steps will be. So far they have been slowly altering the ratio of sea and water in the pool. “This way, the belugas have been able to slowly get used to the sea and prepare their immune system for permanent migration to the bay.”
Next they will be moved into the newly renovated habitat, a transitional area between the indoor pool and the bay. It is a small pool in Klettsvík. It will give them access to the seabed and provide staff with easy access to the whales, to ensure that their health can still be monitored.
Audrey had explained: “We need to be there as their supervisors and prepare them for the changes: the wind, the rain, the birds, everything they have not experienced since they were probably two years old” The new enclosure will also help to introduce the whales to those already in the area. “It’s a bit like introducing a new pet to an old pet. You want to be sure that the presentation takes place step by step to achieve a positive result,” says Audrey.
Construction began last summer, and their new temporary home finally arrived yesterday after being transported for 16 hours.
The Sea Life Trust is determined to help them properly acclimate to the bay. They should be around 14 years old now, and they could live here for the next 30 to 40 years, so it’s important to set them up for success. The hope is that this project can become a model for rehoming the estimated 3000 cetaceans currently in captivity.
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