A win for show animals as Shanghai’s belugas find a new home
SHANGHAI IS SHOWING THE WORLD that it’s possible to give hope to captive show animals.
British-based Merlin Entertainments, which operates Changfeng Ocean World in the bustling Chinese city, will be giving a better life to two of its beluga whales. 12-year-old female cetaceans Little White and Little Grey will be released to Klettsvik Bay in Iceland next year.
The bay is being turned into a 32,000 square-meter sea pen with a depth of up to 10 meters. that will become home to the whales. Building work in the bay has already begun and is expected to be completed in March 2019.
It’s the world’s first open water sanctuary for whales.
For the uninitiated, Klettsvik Bay is where Keiko, the killer whale in the 1993 film Free Willy, was flown to in 1998.
The orca was fully released in 2002. However, despite the millions of dollars spent and a decade of work, the project failed to coax him back to the open sea.
Keiko did not fully adapt to life in the wild and died 18 months later in a Norwegian fjord. He was only 27 years old.
His death was considerably premature as orcas in the wild have an average life expectancy of 30 to 50 years—their estimated maximum lifespan is 60 to 70 years for males.
Belugas, on the other hand, typically live for 40 to 60 years.
Thus, preparations are in place for Little White and Little Grey to have a smooth transition.
Originally from Russian Arctic waters, they were two or three years old when they were captured. They’re known to be extremely sociable mammals that live, hunt and migrate together in pods.
Currently, they weigh around 900 kilograms and are about four meters long.
They are being trained to hold their breath for longer and become physically stronger to cope with tides and currents.
Their caretakers are also helping them put on blubber to cope with the colder water temperatures better.
Little White and Little Grey’s transfer will take about 30 hours and will involve stretchers and transport semi-submerged in tanks, by truck, chartered flight, and then ferry.
Both will still be in human care in the netted-off sea sanctuary as they may not survive on their own in the world.
The release will help research into how captive whales could one day be prepared for release out of human dependency and give hope to more than 3,000 captive cetaceans as the popularity of marine shows wanes.
In 2013, internationally-renowned marine animal theme park SeaWorld faced severe backlash when CNN-backed documentary film Blackfish exposed the world to the company’s handling of its captive killer whales.
The star of the show, Tilikum, was involved in accidents that ended in the deaths of three people.
It’s believed that he was psychologically traumatized and unnecessarily violent due to his years in capacity.
Tilikum died in captivity in January 2017.
Perhaps, one day, the world will see an end to whale and dolphin entertainment shows.
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Source: Travels travelwireasia.com