These Rescued Beluga Whales Are About to Swim in the Open Sea for the First Time in 9 Years

Beluga whale being lowered into water at sanctuary

As part of a rescue mission six years in the making, Iceland finally welcomed its newest — and arguably cutest — residents: two beluga whales named Little Grey and Little White. Beyond giving tourists another reason to visit Iceland, these 12-year-old females will eventually christen the world’s first open-water sanctuary for belugas.

Two beluga whales (Little Grey and Little White) swim in their, bayside care pool, for a short period of time to acclimatise to their new natural environment at the open water sanctuary in Klettsvik Bay in Iceland.

According to Lonely Planet, conservation charity Sea Life Trust led the operation, freeing Little Grey and Little White from captivity in Changfeng Ocean World, Shanghai. The whales traveled 6,000 miles by land, sea, and even air to Klettsvik Bay, where they are currently acclimating to the natural environment at a sea sanctuary care area. This is the final stage in the process before releasing them into a larger open-water sanctuary located in the Westman Islands off Iceland’s southern coast.

This is the first time Little Grey and Little White have been in the sea since they were taken from a Russian whale research center in 2011. The team of experts monitoring their progress in adapting to the ocean environment have reported nothing but good news since their Aug. 8 arrival.

"Following extensive planning and rehearsals, the first stage of their release back to the ocean was as smooth as we had hoped and planned for,” said Andy Bool, head of Sea Life Trust, in a statement. “[We] hope to announce their final release very soon.”

Eventually, Little Grey and Little White won’t be the only residents at the Beluga Whale Sanctuary, which was created in partnership with Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The site will also be home to a puffin hospital for monitoring and researching puffin chicks. In addition, the sanctuary will soon offer carefully regulated, small group boat trips so visitors can catch a glimpse of Little Grey and Little White enjoying their new habitat.

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