Beluga whale couple travels 6,000 miles to be freed at world's first open-water sanctuary

Wyatte Grantham-Philips, USA TODAY
·2 min read

For almost 10 years, "Little Grey" and "Little White" haven't dipped their flippers into the sea. Until now.

After traveling 6,000 miles from an aquarium in China, the two beluga whales have been moved to the world's first open-water whale sanctuary for belugas in Iceland, the SEA LIFE Trust confirmed in a Sunday press release.

“We’re absolutely delighted to be able to share the news that Little Grey and Little White are safely in their sea sanctuary care pools and are just one step away from being released into their wider open water home," stated Andy Bool, Head of SEA LIFE Trust.

The journey across the world began in June 2019. The beluga couple lived in a temporary care facility for the past year, with preparations for the move to open water — including additions of more blubber to prepare for cooler temperatures, as well as being introduced to natural flora and fauna found in the ocean.

The transfer to their current bayside care pool, which was completed Friday, carries special meaning — as Little Grey and Little White haven't lived in an ocean environment since 2011, when they were taken from a Russian whale research center.

According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation, well over 300 belugas worldwide are held in captivity today. And death rates are double in captivity than that in the wild — as belugas live up to 60 years in the open ocean, but often 30 or less under ownership.

"Beautiful and expressive, beluga whales are known as the canaries of the sea," writes WDC. "But like the fate of many a songbird, belugas are continually exploited and held captive for human entertainment."

Both Little Grey and Little White are now about 12 years old, Live Science reports, and expected to live into their 40s. The new Icelandic sanctuary may be their home for years to come.

Contributing: The Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2 beluga whales freed to world's first open water sanctuary in Iceland