Last month, Iceland opened the world’s first open-sea beluga whale sanctuary in the secluded Klettsvik Bay. The inaugural residents are Little Grey 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. Now, they have completed the 6,000-mile journey from China to Iceland via plane, ferry, and truck, and have finally arrived at the sanctuary.
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 is protected from the elements.
Although the bay will be enclosed (it is only partially, and 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 into the wild as they would likely not survive.
The whales will be studied by scientists to learn how they adapt to their new home. If they acclimate well to the environment, they could live to be up to 60 years old. To follow their story, check out the sanctuary’s Twitter account.
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.
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.
This article was updated on June 20, 2019.