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Humpback whale underwater

Climate giants – how whales can help save the world

We know that whales, dolphins and porpoises are amazing beings with complex social and family...
Black Sea common dolphins © Elena Gladilina

The dolphin and porpoise casualties of the war in Ukraine

Rare, threatened subspecies of dolphins and porpoises live in the Black Sea along Ukraine's coast....
WDC's Ed Fox, Chris Butler-Stroud and Carla Boreham take a message from the ocean to parliament

Taking a message from the ocean to parliament

It's a sad fact that whales and dolphins don't vote in human elections, but I...
Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Tokitae in captivity

Talking to TUI – will they stop supporting whale and dolphin captivity?

Last Thursday I travelled to Berlin for a long-anticipated meeting with TUI senior executives. I...

Earth Day Q&A with Waipapa Bay Wines’ marketing director, Fran Draper

We've been partnered with Waipapa Bay Wines since 2019 so for this year's Earth Day,...
Orcas at the seabed

The secrets of orca beach life

Rubbing on smooth pebbles is a generations-old cultural tradition for a particular group of orcas...
All policy news
  • All policy news
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Stop whaling
  • Strandings
Sperm whale © Douglas Hoffman

Featured policy news item

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nunc magna elit, gravida at lectus vitae,...
sea_world_orlando_rob_lott

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque Following a three...

Endangered Southern Resident orca loses newborn calf

In heartbreaking news from the Pacific Northwest, the Center for Whale Research has reported that...
srkw_shoup_2003_text

U.S. Defense Bill weakens protections for whales

24 July 2018, Plymouth, MA: The FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act conference report was released...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...
f0k5103-2

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...
iron_gate_dam_klamath

One step closer to more salmon for endangered Southern Resident orcas

On June 28, 2018, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) filed “The Definite Plan” for...
monodon_monoceros-wdc3

Narwhals and Bowhead whales threatened by new Arctic shipping routes

A NASA-funded study has warned that marine creatures like whales and dolphins will be exposed...
japanese_whaling_2005_-_minke_whales_credit_jeremy_sutton-hibbert_for_use_until_28.2.17_1

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...
hvalfjordur_035

Iceland flouts international ban to slaughter first protected fin whale of new hunting season

Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf has slaughtered an endangered fin whale today in defiance of...
l92_dave_ellifrit_cwr

Southern Resident orca L92 missing as community returns to the Salish Sea

We are very sad to share news announced today by the Center for Whale Research...
whale_alert_flag_san_juan_county

New actions in the Northwest to help Southern Resident orcas and salmon

As the Washington State Task Force starts to examine threats to the endangered Southern Resident...
All articles
  • All articles
  • About whales & dolphins
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Fundraising
  • Green Whale
  • Kids blogs
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Scottish Dolphin Centre
  • Stop whaling
Humpback whale underwater

Climate giants – how whales can help save the world

We know that whales, dolphins and porpoises are amazing beings with complex social and family...
Black Sea common dolphins © Elena Gladilina

The dolphin and porpoise casualties of the war in Ukraine

Rare, threatened subspecies of dolphins and porpoises live in the Black Sea along Ukraine's coast....
WDC's Ed Fox, Chris Butler-Stroud and Carla Boreham take a message from the ocean to parliament

Taking a message from the ocean to parliament

It's a sad fact that whales and dolphins don't vote in human elections, but I...
Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Tokitae in captivity

Talking to TUI – will they stop supporting whale and dolphin captivity?

Last Thursday I travelled to Berlin for a long-anticipated meeting with TUI senior executives. I...

Earth Day Q&A with Waipapa Bay Wines’ marketing director, Fran Draper

We've been partnered with Waipapa Bay Wines since 2019 so for this year's Earth Day,...
Orcas at the seabed

The secrets of orca beach life

Rubbing on smooth pebbles is a generations-old cultural tradition for a particular group of orcas...
All policy news
  • All policy news
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Stop whaling
  • Strandings
Sperm whale © Douglas Hoffman

Featured policy news item

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nunc magna elit, gravida at lectus vitae,...
sea_world_orlando_rob_lott

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque Following a three...

Endangered Southern Resident orca loses newborn calf

In heartbreaking news from the Pacific Northwest, the Center for Whale Research has reported that...
srkw_shoup_2003_text

U.S. Defense Bill weakens protections for whales

24 July 2018, Plymouth, MA: The FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act conference report was released...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...
f0k5103-2

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...
iron_gate_dam_klamath

One step closer to more salmon for endangered Southern Resident orcas

On June 28, 2018, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) filed “The Definite Plan” for...
monodon_monoceros-wdc3

Narwhals and Bowhead whales threatened by new Arctic shipping routes

A NASA-funded study has warned that marine creatures like whales and dolphins will be exposed...
japanese_whaling_2005_-_minke_whales_credit_jeremy_sutton-hibbert_for_use_until_28.2.17_1

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...
hvalfjordur_035

Iceland flouts international ban to slaughter first protected fin whale of new hunting season

Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf has slaughtered an endangered fin whale today in defiance of...
l92_dave_ellifrit_cwr

Southern Resident orca L92 missing as community returns to the Salish Sea

We are very sad to share news announced today by the Center for Whale Research...
whale_alert_flag_san_juan_county

New actions in the Northwest to help Southern Resident orcas and salmon

As the Washington State Task Force starts to examine threats to the endangered Southern Resident...

How do you build a beluga whale sanctuary?

Preparing a new home for two ex-captive belugas is a wonderful world first.

The future of the two captive beluga whales we are building a sanctuary for, in a remote location in Iceland, is looking more certain by the day. As the weather improves and we get the necessary endorsements for our sanctuary to be built, we are getting closer to the stage when we can put the first spade in the ground. So how do you build a sanctuary for belugas?

Our beluga sanctuary will be the world’s first. We know from the swim-with-dolphins industry that captive dolphins and even belugas can survive in areas of coastline that are netted-off. But, these sea pen facilities are often overcrowded, in unsuitable areas with shallow water and at risk from pollution.

In contrast to these commercial facilities, which are built and operated to provide entertainment to human visitors wanting to swim with dolphins, our sanctuary will be built for belugas. The welfare of the whales will be our primary concern as we create an environment which will enable them to live as natural a life as possible.  A safe, secure net will be strung across Klettsvik Bay in Iceland’s Westman Islands and anchored to the sea floor. Sadly, as these belugas have been in captivity for so long, it’s not possible to simply release them into the open ocean – they wouldn’t know how to survive. So this net will enclose a large area of sea within which the belugas will be able to roam and explore its natural features and wildlife and feel the rhythm of waves and tides and the dynamic power of the North Atlantic weather. The seaward side of the sea pen will be buffered by floating breakwaters called wave attenuators, which will help to reduce wave action in a bay that can experience severe storms throughout the year. The sea pen will be built before the winter and robustly tested through the season of most severe storms and ice before the belugas can be moved into it.

Across the bay in the small town of Vestmannaeyjar, existing buildings will be renovated and expanded to accommodate a visitor centre and critical care pool. The critical care pool is essential and will provide an indoor space where the belugas will recover after their long journey from Shanghai. It will also provide somewhere the belugas can be brought, if absolutely necessary, in an emergency. This could be an injury or illness that cannot be effectively treated in the sea pen, a pollution incident such as an oil spill or very severe weather. Adjacent to the pool will be laboratories dedicated to non-invasive beluga research and care. Visitors to the centre will be able to learn the story of the belugas, about belugas in the wild and what they can do to help protect them. There is already a puffin hospital on the site and we will add local natural history exhibits. Every spring, thousands of baby puffins (pufflings) are blown off course and end up on the streets of Vestmannaeyjar. Local people rescue these disorientated young birds and bring them to the puffin hospital to be checked over before returning them to the wild.

Belugas are naturally found in harsh, Arctic and sub-arctic environments and are naturally suited to northern climes, where daylight is in short supply for much of the year. In such a location, work outside, particularly in a marine environment, can be hampered by rain, winds, ice and fog, even in the middle of summer. There’s a relatively short window in which building work will be possible, and interruptions due to poor weather and extreme environmental conditions all need to be taken into account. The sea pen in particular needs to be weather proof, wave proof and saltwater proof as well as resilient to possible damage from curious belugas!

Construction on the world’s first sanctuary for captive belugas will soon begin. As a world first, there has been much to learn and there will be more to learn as our project progresses. The expertise involved at all levels gives us reassurance that the sanctuary will provide a safe, but much more natural, and stimulating environment for the beluga individuals who come to live out the rest of their lives in retirement. The proof of the pudding will be in how Little White and Little Grey, the first belugas we will be bringing to Iceland, enjoy their new, purpose-built, safe and healthy, natural sanctuary. We hope they thrive there and that their time performing tricks for human ‘entertainment’ becomes a distant memory for them.

About Cathy Williamson

Cathy Williamson was policy manager of our End Captivity Programme until July 2021.