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Belugas on board

The SEA LIFE TRUST and project partner, WDC have today announced that Europe’s leading all-cargo airline Cargolux will sponsor the flight to help relocate beluga whales, Little Grey and Little White from captivity in China to a sanctuary in Iceland in spring 2019.

To mark the occasion WDC was present at the unveiling of a specially branded plane, which features Little Grey and Little White on a Boeing 747-400 freighter. This plane will help transport the two whales, along with a care team, over 6,000 miles to the world’s first open water sanctuary for beluga whales.

The complex journey will see the two belugas move from Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, China, via land, air and eventually by sea to the large sanctuary in a natural bay at Heimaey, one of the Westman Islands, located off the southern coast of Iceland.

The secluded bay, will be the world’s first open water sanctuary for beluga whales in a ground-breaking global marine welfare project. The bay, which measures up to 32,000 sqm with a depth of up to 10m has been chosen to provide a more natural sub-Arctic environment and wild habitat for these amazing whales to call home.

Andy Bool, Head of SEA LIFE Trust, said: “This is a complex but truly inspiring project to be working on and we are extremely grateful to Cargolux for their generosity in becoming our official transport partner and helping us move Little White and Little Grey to their new, more natural home. Cargolux has years of experience working on many  of the most logistically intricate projects and their teams have been working with our animal care team, veterinarians and marine experts to ensure we provide the very best journey for Little Grey and Little White.”

Bool continues: “We have also been working with Little Grey and Little White for months preparing them for the journey which includes specialist equipment and bespoke stretchers as well as a whole host of leading animal experts who will work around-the-clock as the whales make the journey to their new home.”

Richard Forson, Cargolux President and Chief Executive Officer added: “Cargolux is honoured to have been entrusted with two such incredible belugas. This is a ground-breaking project and one which our animal transport experts are proud to be part of. We are meticulously preparing for the move this spring to ensure a seamless journey for Little Grey and Little White.”

This undertaking is a natural follow-up to the increasing amount of measures that the airline has taken to raise awareness about the necessity to promote conservation, preserve the environment, and fight illegal animal trade.  Cargolux has a history of engagement for environmental consciousness, and animal welfare in particular. As a signatory of the UN Global Compact and a company committed to the UN’s Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals, conservation and sustainable development rank high on Cargolux’s list of priorities. Partnerships such as this one are of prime importance for the airline and reflect its engagement and that of its employees.

The complex logistical challenge of transporting two beluga whales by air, land and sea is being carefully planned by a team of global experts with experience in transporting marine mammals. The 6,000-miles journey will take around 24 hours to complete – from the time Little Grey and Little White leave Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai and arrive at the sanctuary on Heimaey Island.

Created in partnership with WDC, the SEA LIFE TRUST Beluga Whale Sanctuary is one of the biggest developments in captive whale and dolphin care and protection in decades and the first of its kind to be created for cetaceans.

Cathy Williamson, WDC policy manager, concluded: “Whales and dolphins are highly intelligent creatures and are not suited to being held in a small pool performing tricks. It is hoped that this project will help to encourage the rehabilitation of more captive whales into a more natural environment in the future, and one day bring an end to the use of whales and dolphins for human entertainment. We are hugely grateful to Cargolux for helping to make this a reality.”

Visitors to Heimaey will be able to learn more about Little White and Little Grey and the sanctuary in a landside visitor centre which will be completed in 2019. It will offer limited and discreet viewing of the whales. This will be very carefully controlled to ensure the two whales will not be disturbed in their new and very natural environment.

Backed by a donation from Merlin Entertainments and supported by the world’s largest chain of family aquariums, SEA LIFE, the sanctuary will comprise of a stunning natural sea inlet in Klettsvik Bay and include a landside care facility and visitor centre.

Follow the plane and where it’s spotted by following the hashtags: #WhaleHelloPlane #BelugaFlight

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