Beluga Whales Swap Shanghai Captivity for Iceland Sanctuary

Little White and Little Grey have been flown from Shanghai to Iceland

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1:32 AM HKT, Tue June 25, 2019 1 mins read

Here’s a feel-good story to kick off your week with: After years in captivity performing entertainment shows in a Shanghai aquarium, two female beluga whales, Little White and Little Grey, recently arrived at a new home –– Klettsvik Bay in Iceland, the first open water beluga sanctuary in the world.

Little White and Little Grey lived in the waters of the Russian Arctic until they were captured and sent to Shanghai-based Changfeng Ocean World. That venue forced the whales to perform tricks for an audience, something which is unfortunately all-too-common in Chinese zoos and wildlife parks.

However, when Changfeng Ocean World was taken over by Merlin Entertainment in 2012, the search began to give Little White and Little Grey a new home (though in the meantime, Merlin failed to put a halt to their performances). Fortunately for the pair, their life of showbiz has now come to an end. At Klettsvik Bay, Andy Bool and his team from Sea Life Trust have been taking care of the newcomers, helping them adjust to the semi-wilderness in a netted sea pan.

Sea Life Trust and Whale & Dolphin Conservation plan to accommodate more beluga whales in their Icelandic sanctuary. Meanwhile, they hope that their sanctuary project will be echoed in other parts of the world to encourage more conservationist development.

In addition to its international impact, the rehoming project has also drawn attention to long-existing concerns for animal welfare and issues with animal protection rights in China. In recent years, Chinese zoos have been at the center of scandals regarding animal mistreatment. Pictures of cement enclosures, obese animals, littered habitats, and abusive performances have appalled many.


As the economy burgeons and environmental regulations strengthen, China has still yet to enforce wide-ranging protection for animal rights. Most zoos in China still regard profit as the primary focus with few mature systems set up for ethical animal tending. As zoos and wildlife research institutions start to play a more important role in the education, research, and conservation of wild species, the hope is more projects such as the rehoming of the Beluga whales could help push for the building of more ethical wildlife conservation systems in China.

Cover photo © Serena Livingston |

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