Two former captive beluga whales, Little Grey and Little White, have taken their first swim in their new open water sanctuary home in the Westman Islands of Iceland. The whales explored Klettsvík Bay for the first time under the watchful eye of their care team as part of their gradual release into the bay called the ‘Little Steps’ programme.
The two whales, who are sisters, were raised in captivity and thus cannot be fully released into the wild. Before arriving in Iceland in June 2019, the whales were housed in concrete tanks in a Shanghai amusement park. Their journey to Iceland involved a flight, truck, and ferry trips, and will be the subject of a documentary to air on ITV this October.
“We’re delighted that Little Grey and Little White are now exploring the wider bay and adapting well to their new, natural, stimulating environment,” stated Cathy Williamson of Whale and Dolphin Conservation, one of several organisations behind the creation of the sanctuary. “As well as providing an exciting home for Little Grey and Little White, we look forward to welcoming other belugas here and encouraging the development of sanctuaries in other parts of the world. We hope this will mean that many of the more than 3,500 whales and dolphins held in captivity for shows and swim with attractions can be brought to sanctuaries to live more natural lives or be rehabilitated for a return to the wild.”
Little Grey and Little White’s journey involved many challenges: before the transport, the whales underwent a strict exercise regime to help them adjust to the conditions of their home-to-be. Since their arrival in Iceland, they have been housed in pools at the sanctuary as they adjust to the new conditions. The whales moved to bayside care pools in August and have now taken their first swim out in the wider bay, the next step toward introducing them gradually into their sanctuary home.