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Merlin Entertainments announces creation of SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary

Merlin Entertainments announces creation of SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary
June 29, 2018

Merlin Entertainments' SEA LIFE Trust has announced the creation of the world’s first open water sanctuary for beluga whales.

To be located in at natural bay at Heimaey, one of the Westman Islands, located off the southern coast of Iceland, work is already underway on the ground-breaking marine welfare project – to be known as The SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary.

As of early 2019, its first residents will be two female beluga whales, Little Grey and Little White, currently at Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, China.

To reach their new home, the pair will undertake an epic 9,500 kilometres journey by air, land and sea.

The aim is to provide the whales with habitat more akin to their native environment. The bay extends to around 32,000 metre² and has a depth of up to 10 metres.

Andy Bool, Head of the SEA LIFE Trust explains “we’re delighted to break new ground in marine animal welfare with the creation of the world’s first sanctuary for beluga whales.

“This project has been years in the making and is a pioneering solution to how the aquarium industry can re-shape the futures of whales in captivity.”

Bool described the project as a truly global effort and said the sanctuary will give the whales a greatly enhanced quality of life.

Merlin Entertainments has been looking for a new solution for the belugas since it acquired Changfeng Ocean World in 2012. The company, which also owns the SEA LIFE chain of marine attractions, has donated funds for the project which has been created in partnership with Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), a leading charity dedicated to the protection of whales and dolphins, the sanctuary will include a care facility and visitor centre.

The project is the first of its kind to be created for cetaceans and aims to encourage further initiatives along the same lines. The long term goal is to bring about an end to whale and dolphin entertainment shows.

WDC Chief Executive Chris Butler-Stroud added “we have long applauded the commitment of Merlin and the SEA LIFE Trust to find a better, alternative future for these belugas, which is in line with our concerns about the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity around the world, and the need to find a solution for the thousands of individuals held.

“We hope it will create a blueprint for further such sanctuaries for belugas and other captive whales and dolphins, which are desperately needed to address the risks captivity poses to whale and dolphin health and welfare.”

Images (from top): Beluga whales Little Grey and Little White; their current home at Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai; their planned new home at Heimaey, one of the Iceland's Westman Islands; and an artist's impression of their new enclosure.

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