After spending their lives performing in captivity, a pair of beluga whales is returning to their natural arctic ocean habitat. As Thrillist reports, Little Grey and Little White will be the first two residents of a new beluga whale sanctuary in Iceland—the first open-water beluga sanctuary in the world.
The two belugas are both females born about 12 years ago. They were taken from their native waters near Russia when they were babies and transported to Shanghai's Changfeng Ocean World—a Sea World-like attraction where marine animals perform for entertainment. Sea Life Trust, the organization behind the new whale sanctuary, has spent seven years organizing the animals' journey to Iceland, and on June 19, they will finally arrive in their new home.
The beluga whale sanctuary is located in Klettsvik Bay on Heimaey Island off Iceland's southern coast. Little Grey and Little White will have a 34,455-square-foot, 30-foot-deep area of open ocean to explore. The water temperatures will also be much closer to what belugas are naturally adapted to, but after spending so much time in China, they whales need acclimate to their frigid new habitat. Currently weighing about 2000 pounds apiece, the belugas are being given extra food to help them bulk up.
Instead of viewing them behind the glass walls of a tank, visitors to the sanctuary will be able to see the whales in their natural environment. From August 1 to October 30, boats will take tourists around the bay where the whales live. Tickets start around $50.
The star residents haven't arrived yet, but the whale sanctuary officially opened this spring. The attraction is also home to a visitors center with an aquarium and a puffin sanctuary, both of which are now open to the public.