Heimaey is an island off the southern coast of Iceland, and it will soon be getting some new residents. Heimaey will be the first natural sanctuary for beluga whales who have been kept in captivity.
The Sea Life Trust is responsible for the creation of the Sanctuary and the first two whales, named Little Grey and Little White, will be arriving from Shanghai’s Changfeng Ocean World sometime next spring.
The Sea Life Trust partnered with Whale and Dolphin Conservation to create the Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary in an effort to provide a more natural venue for rehabilitating whales that have been held in captivity. By providing a natural environment like the one in the rocky inlet off Heimaey, the recovering animals should have an easier recovery and improved welfare.
The two belugas coming from Shanghai are both 12 years old are currently being trained to handle their 6,000-mile journey to Iceland. The animals need to be acclimated to the equipment that will be used to transport them, such as the stretchers and containers that will be loaded onto the plane. The whales will also be trained to swim and survive in the natural environment they’ll encounter in Iceland. They’ll need to dive deeper, hold their breath longer and be able to swim in changing tides and currents.
In addition, the two whales are also having their diets modified. An increase in calories will ensure that the belugas will have extra blubber, which they’ll need to keep warm in the much colder Icelandic waters of their new sanctuary.
The actual sanctuary will be located in an area known as Klettsvik Bay. The bay reaches depths of 30 feet or so, and the sanctuary will cover an area of about 105,000 square feet. Portions of the bay will be closed off with protective netting to keep the animals safe.
The hope is that the improved quality of life the whales will experience at the sanctuary will lead to other similar projects around the world, helping in the effort to address the concerns that whales face in captivity.