World’s First Beluga-Whale Sanctuary to Welcome New Residents Next Year

An open-water beluga-whale sanctuary is set to open in Iceland in March, and it’s already expecting two arrivals, according to reports. Little Grey and Little White—two female beluga whales who currently reside at Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai—will make the journey from their marine park “home” in China to the open-water sanctuary off Heimaey, an island off Iceland’s southern coast.

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The sanctuary is located in Klettsvik Bay, where Keiko—who portrayed Willy in Free Willy—was rehabilitated.

The exciting move is thanks to a joint effort between SEA LIFE Trust and Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The first-of-its-kind sanctuary will be known as the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary. “It is hoped the project will help to encourage the rehabilitation of more captive whales into natural environments in the future, and one day bring an end to whale and dolphin entertainment shows,” SEA LIFE Trust says on its website.

Little Grey and Little White are currently made to perform for Changfeng Ocean World visitors, much as many orcas, whales, and other marine mammals are forced to do at SeaWorld’s parks across the U.S. In less than one year, Little Grey and Little White will be free to roam 32,000 square meters of open water, and the pair will never be forced to perform again. Meanwhile, orcas at SeaWorld are forced to live in tanks that are smaller than American football fields.

We applaud SEA LIFE Trust and Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s efforts, and we hope SeaWorld executives follow this lead—something that PETA has been urging the abusement-park company to do for years. In sea sanctuaries, orcas and other marine animals could live in large areas of the ocean while still benefiting from humans’ care for as long as they might need. These sanctuaries can even offer some orcas the potential for eventual release into the open ocean.

But in order for this to become a reality, SeaWorld executives must get their heads out of … the clouds. It’s up to us to convince the marine-park company that the animals it holds captive should be granted the same freedom that Little Grey and Little White will be.

SeaWorld Has No More Excuses

In 2015, Munchkin, Inc., offered to donate $1 million to SeaWorld if the company used the funds to build a sea sanctuary for its captive orcas. PETA even offered to match the donation, if SeaWorld would agree to retire all the orcas it held captive—including one named Tilikum—to the sanctuary. The company rejected the offer. Tilikum has since died, as have 40 other orcas at SeaWorld’s parks.

Despite public outcry, SeaWorld hasn’t retired a single orca, nor has it made any effort to build sanctuaries for the animals it keeps imprisoned. Changfeng Ocean World and other marine parks and aquariums around the world are seeing the light, but SeaWorld refuses to get with the program. Click below to urge the company to release its animals into sanctuaries where they’ll be given some semblance of the natural life that they’ve been denied for so long:

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