Captive beluga whales take first swim in open-water sanctuary

Two captive whales are getting a new lease on life after being rescued.

Known as Little Grey and Little White, the two belugas were captured in Russian waters and sold to Shanghai’s Changfeng Ocean World aquarium more than a decade ago. But when the aquarium was sold to British corporation Merlin Entertainment, its policy against captive whales and dolphins meant the animals would be saved.

After teaming up with the wildlife charity Sea Life Trust, Little Grey and Little Whale were taken by plane, truck and ferry to Iceland’s south coast. It’s there at Klettsvik Bay, that they took their first swim in their 344,445-square-foot open water sea pen.

“We have a great opportunity to learn how these belugas, which have lived in a captive environment for most of their lives, how they adapt to a more natural habitat,” general manager of the sanctuary, Audrey Padgett, told the Associated Press. “Then we can share that information to improve the welfare of more than 300 belugas that are in captivity around the world.”

The whales will be gradually introduced to the bay over time. After each session, they’ll return to the care pool where their condition can be assessed.

“It’s like letting your kids drive for the first time or, you know, sending them off to school,” says care team member, Jessica Whiton. “I’m terrified, I’m absolutely terrified. Have I done the work that I need to do to prepare them, so they’re not scared and that they’re successful?”

If you enjoyed this story, watch these shipwreck explorers get a surprise visit from a massive whale.

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