WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) is continuing to work with Merlin Entertainments to identify a permanent solution to secure a better future for three belugas currently housed at Shanghai Oceanworld in China, including their possible release back into the sea.
Both WDC and Merlin remain committed to trying to give these belugas a more natural life. However, it has proven very challenging to find a safe and suitable site. Not least, because the removal of these whales from their current location, and possible placement back into the wild is a hugely complex logistical operation. The challenges involved have been highlighted recently when, having identified a potential location in Russia (after months of negotiation and a substantial amount of research), the site has proven unsuitable. Our team is now actively looking at alternative locations. This includes engaging with local, national and international decision-makers and other stakeholders to make this ambitious project a reality.
The belugas cannot simply be airlifted out of Shanghai and dropped into an ocean. As with any whale or dolphin held for a length of time in captivity, the process requires a period of detailed assessment by an expert team to ascertain how suitable they are for transportation and release back into the wild. Assuming this goes well, and the whales are suitable for release, this needs to be in an area where the belugas would naturally be found, there is minimal threat to their continued survival; and ideally there is a possibility that they could re-join a suitable natural population. Prior to release, the belugas will need to undergo possibly lengthy rehabilitation in a sanctuary-type environment that provides optimal conditions for their health and welfare. Developing the necessary infrastructure, bringing together the expert team and obtaining official approvals from the local, national and international authorities concerned can also be costly and complex.
We will, of course, keep you updated on progress surrounding the latest negotiations.