Shanghai Belugas Whales Arrive at Their New Sanctuary in Iceland

With all the doom and gloom going on in the world, we’re pleased to announce a tear-jerker (in a good way) of a story to kick off your week.

Over several years, the new SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary has been created in partnership with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). The enormous 32,000-square-metre Klettsvik Bay on Heimaey Island was designated as the site for the sanctuary which opened in April this year. It’s a sheltered bay which protects the wildlife from the harsh Icelandic weather, but still allows scientists to carefully manage and monitor the sea life.
Finally, in recent days, the two beluga whales – Little White and Little Grey – have safely reached their new home, the first open water beluga sanctuary in the world. Both are female, around 12 years old and weigh in at almost 1000 kilos each. They have differing characters too – Little White is shy and reserved, while Little Grey is reportedly more curious and a little mischievous.

The two belugas once lived wild in the Arctic waters around Russia. Many years ago, they were captured by the Changfeng Ocean World and transported to Shanghai where they, like many wildlife parks that still exist today, they were trained and forced to perform tricks to audiences. In 2012, Ocean World was bought out by Merlin Entertainment who began searching for a new home for the belugas which has ended in 2019 with the delivery of the belugas to their new wild sanctuary.

Meet Little-White and Little-Grey

The last 30-hour journey across the world was a logistically difficult project. Local veterinary experts in China prepared Little White and Little Grey for their journey, while marine specialists and biologists closely monitored the whales in transit to ensure their mental and physical well-being. Their new Icelandic waters are considerably colder than they were used too in China, so they were given a highly calorific diet to put on extra blubber in preparation.

Now in their new home, both belugas will be slowly introduced to the local wildlife, helping them to adjust and interact safely with the surrounding sea life which include crabs, shellfish and sea kelp. Unlike captivity, they have more than 30 feet of water depth giving them amble room to swim, dive down and explore.
This is just the beginning for the sanctuary and there are plans underway to introduce new belugas to the Icelandic sanctuary. It’s also brought to light the treatment of animals in zoos and there’s hope that this project will help spur on new sanctuaries in other parts of the world.

Come and visit!

There’s never been a better time to visit the little Icelandic island of Heimaey Island. While this new sanctuary and the beautiful beluga whales are the star of the show, there’s plenty more to see and do from hiking trails to fishing and puffin viewing to museum visits. If you’re sold on a trip to Heimaey Island, our hotel, Guesthouse Hóll, is just minutes away from the sanctuary. We can help plan your whole trip from organising tickets and transport to take you on guided excursions around the island.