Why are two beluga whales moving more than 6,000 miles to a new home?

  • Video report by ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward

Two beluga whales who have spent almost their entire lives in captivity are preparing for a new life in an Icelandic sanctuary.

Little Grey and Little White are the focus of an ambitious relocation project which will see them transported more than 6,000 miles from Shanghai Changfeng Ocean World to a bay off the south coast of Iceland.

The whales were captured by Russian poachers when they were young. Since then they've been trained to perform for human entertainment and become reliant on intervention to survive.

Increasing awareness around animal welfare means the mammals will now be moved into a more natural environment.

The whales will be transported more than 6,000 miles. Credit: SEA LIFE Trust
  • What is being done to help the whales adapt to their new home?

Over the last twelve months the animals' carers have been putting them through a series of rigorous exercises to prepare them for life in less confined water.

When the whales arrive at their new home, they will need to acclimatise to much cooler waters than they're used to.

Their calorie intake will also need to be upped so they can put on extra blubber, keeping them insulated against the colder conditions.

Away from their tank, a team of international experts is working to ensure their relocation goes as smoothly as possible.

Their journey will involved a short lorry trip, then a 5,581 mile flight from China to Iceland. One they arrive they'll take another lorry to their destination before a short ferry crossing to the island they'll call home.

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  • What is their new home like?

The whales will be relocated to this bay in Iceland. Credit: SEA LIFE Trust

The whales won't be able to swim in open ocean - but their new home will be a drastic improvement on their current conditions.

Their carers fear their acclimatisation to humans over a prolonged period means they are likely to be caught once again by poachers. For that reason they'll be confined to a large bay off the south coast of Iceland. Here they'll be able to swim in relatively open water, gather food and experience life as close as possible to how nature intended.

It also means conservationists will be able to monitor the mammals. Their relocation is a world first, but it's hoped the pioneering plan could lead the way for similar projects in future.