Finding two beluga whales a new home in a new continent, slap bang in the middle of a global pandemic is probably as hard as rehousing an animal gets.
But, thanks to some kind and dedicated people, it got done. Now Little Grey and Little White, the two rescued belugas are enjoying their first real taste of the sea since 2011.
Unfortunately they had a difficult start to life, while very young they were captured off the coast of Russia and spent years in a Chinese aquarium forced to perform.
Thankfully though, they are now at the Beluga Whale Sanctuary which is run by the British charity Sea Life Trust, in Iceland.
Leonie Sophia van den Hoek is a writer who’s also a scientific researcher and marine biologist, in an interview with Bored Panda, she said:
“In my opinion, beluga whales are like the unicorns of whales because of their unusual and beautiful white color,” van den Hoek said. “They also lack a dorsal fin which makes them even more unusual among cetaceans.”
“We are making their home — the sea — warmer and dirtier. “Beluga whales live in open water areas close to the ice edge. They like it cold, and climate change is causing the ice in their habitats to melt,” van den Hoek explained. “Another problem is our use of plastic. It was found in nearly every beluga whale that was tested.”
In a first of its kind study, it found that 7 belugas from Canada’s remote Arctic waters found microplastics in the innards of every single one of them.
The pair arrives safely at Klettsvik Bay where they stayed in a bayside care pool before being released into the wider sanctuary.
Klettsvik Bay is the world’s first open water sanctuary for belugas.
“It’s been quite the journey for these two,” says Audrey Padgett, the Beluga Whale Sanctuary’s general manager. “It hasn’t been easy, but it’s definitely been a labor of love.”
According to Padgett, the belugas’ new home is a much “larger, natural environment” with lots of potential benefits.
She said there are more than 300 belugas in captivity around the world.“Some belugas are in cramped and unsuitable conditions,” Padgett added. “And if what we can learn here from Little White and Little Grey can help improve welfare for other animals … that’s really the point.”
This was certainly no easy task, each beluga weighs a little over a ton (2,000 pounds) and can eat around 110 pounds of fish between them a day.
“If you’re trying to take your cat or your dog somewhere, you want them to have a positive association with travel … We had to make the belugas as comfortable as possible.”
“We’re already in a pretty remote location here in Iceland. It affected our ability to get experts here to help us with the move. It affected our ability to get supplies and just the length of time it took to do things,” Padgett said.
“We also needed to protect our staff and put them into quarantine, because we need our people to take care of our animals.”
“Belugas are destined for a life in cold waters. The low temperature of the seawater and a big swimming place is a very good solution for whales who aren’t capable of going back to the artic. If they can adjust good to the new situation, they will be fine.”
“If we take care of our plastic waste and our use of gas, then we are also indirectly taking care of the beluga whale,” Van Den Hoek added.