Transferring animals is hard work and comes with great responsibilities. But bringing two whales to a new continent in the midst of a global pandemic is the toughest of them all. But it is happening. Two beluga whales, Little Gray and Little White, are enjoying life at sea for the first time since 2011, thanks to a years-long relocation project.
Both were caught off the coast of Russia as juveniles and have spent years performing in aquariums in China. The couple are currently acclimatizing at the Icelandic beluga whale sanctuary run by British charity Sea Life Trust. Bored Panda spoke to science and fantasy writer, marine biologist and research scientist Leonie Sophia van den Hoek to learn more about these awesome creatures.
“To me belugas are like narwhals because of their unusual and beautiful white color.” van den Hoek declares. They are also even rarer among cetaceans due to their lack of a dorsal fin.” Unfortunately, their life is made more difficult by our human presence. We are making the oceans they live in warmer and dirtier.” Belugas live in the open ocean, near the ice edge. They prefer the cold, but climate change is melting the ice in their habitat,” says van den Hoek. Another issue is the amount of plastic used. It was detected in almost all belugas we tested.”
It may sound ridiculous, but it’s true. A landmark study of seven beluga whales in a remote region of the Canadian Arctic revealed the presence of microplastics in the internal organs of each whale. According to the organisation, the two 12-year-old female whales arrived safely in Kretvik Bay and will be acclimatized over time in a care pool on the shores of the bay before being released into a larger protected area. .
Kretvik Bay is the world’s first open water sanctuary for beluga whales. “We are very excited about this,” Audrey Padgett, executive director of the Beluga Sanctuary, told CNN in a video call. It was a good trip for these two. It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely a labor of love. In 2011, Ash and White were transferred from their Russian research center to Changfeng Ocean World Aquarium in Shanghai. The following year, however, the aquarium was taken over by Merlin Entertainments, an organization opposed to the captivity of whales and dolphins, and the idea of returning the whales to the sea was born.
According to Paget, the belugas’ new home is a larger natural environment, which should bring many benefits. According to him, there are more than 300 beluga whales in captivity around the world. Some belugas are in overcrowded and inappropriate environments,” Paget added. If what we learn from the little whites and grays here helps improve the welfare of other animals. This is the real objective of the project. Ms. Paget pointed out that moving two belugas is not an easy task. They weigh just over a ton (2,000 lbs) and consume about 110 lbs of fish per day. The operation requires specially designed equipment, a veterinarian, and enough water and ice to accommodate them.
Mr Puckett explained that the Ash and White have custom-made ‘stretchers’ and hammocks to bring them back to shore, and have had ‘training runs’ to get used to being moved around in lorries , tugs and cranes.” If you’re taking your cat or dog somewhere, you want them to have a positive association with that trip.・ We want to make Belugas as comfortable as possible.” Upon arrival in Iceland, the whales were kept for several months in a care center equipped with quarantine boxes to help them acclimate to Iceland’s cold environment. The final journey from the care unit to the sanctuary is much shorter than the 6,000 mile journey from Cenkún Sea World, but the pandemic has made it very complicated. Here in Iceland we were already quite isolated. It also affects the availability of the specialists needed to travel” (Paget), and “it also affects the supplies and the duration of our work”. We also had to shelter and isolate animal care staff. Ash and White’s journey isn’t over yet. They are currently in an “acclimatization space” within the sanctuary. However, according to the record, they are free to leave the sanctuary at any time.