Two whales flew from the Shanghai aquarium to the shrine in Iceland Environment

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Two beluga whales from a Shanghai aquarium arrived in Iceland to live their days in a single marine sanctuary that environmentalists hope will become a model for the reintegration of 3,000 creatures currently in captivity.

Little Gray and Little White, two 12-year-old belugas left behind their previous lives entertain visitors to Changfeng Ocean World and have flown around the world in specially adapted containers.

Little White and Little Gray perform during an Ocean World show in Shanghai.



Little White and Little Gray perform during an Ocean World show in Shanghai. Photography: Aaron Chown / PA

The whales, which weigh about 900 kg each and are four meters long, will continue their epic journey by truck and ferry to the sanctuary of Klettsvik Bay in Heimaey, one of the Westman islands off the southern coast of Iceland.

The conservation charity Sea Life Trust, which was at the forefront of the project, said the bay is the world's first open water beluga sanctuary and was chosen to "provide a more natural sub-arctic environment and a wilder habitat for these wonderful whales that they call home ".

A cargo plane is loaded with containers with the two whales at Pudong Airport in Shanghai.



A cargo plane is loaded with containers with the two whales at Pudong Airport in Shanghai. Photography: Sea Life Trust / PA

Andy Bool, head of the Sea Life Trust, said: "We have been working with Little White and Little Gray for the last 18 months to make sure they are prepared and ready for the long journey."

After years of captivity, the whales will still be cared for in their new compensated Icelandic sea pen, which covers 32,000 square meters and is 10 meters deep, because they are thought to not survive alone in the wild.

One of the whales is inspected inside a tank before being unloaded from a plane at Keflavík Airport in Iceland.



One of the whales is inspected inside a tank before being unloaded from a plane at Keflavík Airport in Iceland. Photography: Aaron Chown / PA

And they will still see tourists, with a visitor center built on the site and plans for small groups to get closer to the whales in the boat.

Merlin Entertainments, based in Great Britain, which operates several aquariums, took over Changfeng Ocean World in 2012 and started looking for a new home for Little Gray and Little White.

Andy Bool, head of the Sea Life Trust, in Klettsvik Bay, Iceland, where whales have been re-homed.



Andy Bool, head of the Sea Life Trust, in Klettsvik Bay, Iceland, where whales have been re-homed. Photography: Aaron Chown / PA

Whales originally come from Russian arctic waters and are thought to have been two or three years old when captured.

Klettsvik is the place where Keiko, the killer whale in the 1993 film Free Willy, was brought in 1998. The orca was completely released in 2002 but did not completely adapt to life in nature and died 18 months later in a Norwegian fjord.

Whales are unloaded from a plane at Keflavík Airport.



Whales are unloaded from a plane at Keflavík Airport. Photography: Aaron Chown / PA

The activists criticized Merlin for continuing the beluga whale shows before the move and indicated the irony of choosing Iceland as a destination as it openly challenged an international ban on whaling.

Shanghai whales have been trained to hold their breath longer, to become physically stronger to cope with tides and currents and are using fat to help them cope with the colder water temperatures. The Belugas typically live for 40 to 60 years.

Tanks carrying whales are inspected as they are unloaded at Keflavík Airport.



Tanks carrying whales are inspected as they are unloaded at Keflavík Airport. Photography: Aaron Chown / PA

More than 3,000 whales and dolphins are kept in captivity and it is hoped that eight more belugas can join Little Gray and Little White in the future.

The premises of Sea Life Trust in Klettsvik Bay on the island of Heimaey, in Iceland.



The premises of Sea Life Trust in Klettsvik Bay on the island of Heimaey, in Iceland. Photography: Aaron Chown / PA

"We will potentially try to bring more belugas to the shrine in time, once Little White and Little Gray settle in," said Cathy Williamson of Conservation of whales and dolphins charity.

The sanctuary of the open water - to which the whales were first transported to a world of 6000 miles.



The sanctuary of the open water – to which the whales were first transported to a world of 6000 miles. Photography: Aaron Chown / PA

He added that environmentalists "hope that our sanctuary project will provide a plan for the development of sanctuaries in other parts of the world".

. (tagToTranslate) Marine life (t) Whales (t) Environment (t) Wildlife (t) China (t) Iceland (t) Merlin Entertainment (t) World news

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