City whales to find sanctuary in Iceland

Female belugas from Changfeng Ocean World preparing for life in open waters of North Atlantic.
Ti Gong

One of the two female beluga whales at Changfeng Ocean World in Putuo District. They are to be flown to a new sanctuary in Iceland.

Two female beluga whales at Changfeng Ocean World in Putuo District will be transported to Iceland in spring next year, where they’ll live in the world’s first open water sanctuary for members of their species.

The Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary, created in partnership with Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is the first of its kind for cetaceans. It is hoped the project will encourage the rehabilitation of more captive whales in natural environments, said Sea Life Trust, a charitable organization dedicated to the protection of oceans and marine life.

The two beluga whales, both 12 years old, will be taken by air, land and sea on the almost 10,000-kilometer journey to a bay in Heimaey, one of the Westman Islands located off the southern coast of Iceland, according to Sea Life Trust.

Ti Gong

One of the two female beluga whales at Changfeng Ocean World in Putuo District.

The secluded bay, which measures 32,000 square meters and has a depth of up to 10 meters, was chosen for its natural, sub-Arctic habitat.

The whales are taking part in a training program designed by veterinarians and cetacean experts to help them prepare for the trip and their new environment.

The animals are being trained to hold their breath underwater for longer than usual to improve their diving skills, and are being introduced to equipment needed for their transport. Experts are also building their swimming strength to help them adapt to the tides and rushing waters off Iceland, and promoting blubber growth with a calorie diet of herring and capelin.

The sanctuary is set for completion in 2019. It will offer limited and discreet viewings of the whales for visitors to ensure the two are not disturbed.


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