Iceland is set to open the world’s first open-sea beluga whale sanctuary this month in the secluded Klettsvik Bay. The inaugural residents will be Little Gray and Little White, 12-year-old female belugas who were taken into captivity as babies from Russia to perform at Shanghai’s Changfeng Ocean World. The whales will make the 6,000-mile journey from China to Iceland via plane, ferry, and truck this spring.
The sanctuary is a bay of 344,455 square feet at Heimaey Island, located off the coast of southern Iceland. The location was chosen as it resembles the cetacean’s natural subarctic habitat and protected from the elements.
Although the bay will be enclosed (it is only partially naturally enclosed), it will provide a more natural environment and more space for the whales who have only lived in small pools or tanks since their capture. Although it would be ideal, it’s impossible to release the two whales in the wild as they would likely not survive.
Visitors will be able to take a 30-minute boat trip to the bay to see the animals from a distance, from August 1 to October 30.
Not everyone is pro-sanctuary, however. Julie Lasserre, marine biologist and vice president of Sea Shepherd Iceland, told Grapevine, “We are grateful that the Sea Life Trust offers to give better life conditions to those two belugas than the ones they had in their aquarium in China, [but] we are afraid that they are going from a captive life to another captive life with a lot of stress in addition.”
Others have questioned whether Iceland is the best location for the sanctuary, as the country allows whale hunting.
The sanctuary hopes that the project will encourage the release of captive marine animals into open sea sanctuaries and put an end to entertainment shows.