Fri, Jun 21, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Whales from China start their retirement in Iceland

AP, REYKJAVIK

A pair of seasoned performers on Wednesday received a warm welcome in Iceland, where the two beluga whales that previously lived at an aquarium in China are to help populate a sanctuary for formerly captive marine mammals.

Conservationists celebrated when a plane from Shanghai carrying the whales, named Little Gray and Little White after the colors of their skin, touched down at Iceland’s Keflavik International Airport.

Their home is to be a 32,000m2 sea pen at a pristine creek called Klettsvik, accessible by whale-watching boats.

After an 11-hour flight, the pair’s tank was loaded onto a truck for a drive to a harbor and the last leg of their journey, a 30-minute boat ride to the Westman Islands archipelago.

There, they are set to stay in a specially designed indoor pool for 40 days while caretakers increase their food intake to build up extra blubber for heat insulation.

Their presence on the Westman Islands is expected to be a draw for a town with 4,000 residents. One local tour operator is already taking bookings.

Westman Islands Mayor Iris Robertsdottir anticipates a massive celebration once the whales are released into the ocean.

It will not be the first time the town gathers at the harbor to welcome a whale. In 1998, the male orca from the Hollywood film Free Willy was released into the same Klettsvik creek.

“That was a very different project,” Robertsdottir said. “These belugas are not being trained to eventually live in the wild. They will be fed and live only at Klettsvik.”

The Free Willy whale, nicknamed Keiko, died of pneumonia after a year in the wild.

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