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Beluga whales prepare for June release into the world’s first open water sanctuary

Image of Little White and Little Grey from Olympus exhibition

We are pleased to announce that  two former captive Beluga whales, Little White and Little Grey will return home to the ocean when they are released into the world’s first open water sanctuary for beluga whales in Iceland this June.

The two whales are in their final stages of preparation and ready to be moved from their temporary landside care facility to the large sanctuary in a natural bay just off the island Heimaey, one of the Westman Islands, located off the south coast of Iceland.

The SEA LIFE TRUST Beluga Whale Sanctuary, has been created in partnership with WDC and was built with the support of a generous donation from Merlin Entertainments.

It is one of the biggest developments in captive whale and dolphin care and protection in decades.

For the past 12 months, Little Grey and Little White’s health and well-being has been closely monitored by a team of experts and veterinarians following their epic 6,000 mile relocation by air, land and sea from an aquarium in China to start a new life in Iceland.

Since their safe arrival on the island, the whales have been acclimatising and preparing for their return to a more natural habitat. This has included adding more blubber ready for the cool sub-Arctic water, as well as being introduced to the different flora and fauna they will experience in the bay and ensuring they are comfortable with the logistical methods needed for the move.

Andy Bool, Head of SEA LIFE Trust, said:’This is a complex marine welfare project and our care team of world-leading experts have always been led by the individual needs of Little Grey and Little White. With current lockdown measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic due to be eased in the coming weeks across Iceland, it’s right that we make the best decision for Little Grey and Little White and move them into their new home.

'We'll continue to carefully monitor their health and well-being, as well as the ongoing situation and Icelandic weather closely, ahead of the planned move in June.’

Cathy Williamson, Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s End Captivity Programme policy manager said: ‘Having been originally involved in discussions about a sanctuary with SEA LIFE 20 years ago, and having helped with this beluga whale project from the beginning, WDC is naturally very excited to be part of the project.

‘The world’s first whale sanctuary represents a pathway to the end of the keeping of whales and dolphins confined for entertainment, and show the world that there is an alternative to whale and dolphin captivity.’

The move from their landside care facility on the island of Heimaey to the secluded Klettsvik Bay which measures approximately 32,000 sqm with a depth of up to 10m, marks the final chapter in Little Grey and Little White amazing journey back to the ocean. The full story of their journey from China over the last year will be told by  John Bishop  in an exclusive, new ITV documentary, produced by Plimsoll Productions to be shown later this year.

John Bishop said: ‘This has been one of the best experiences of my life. Meeting Little White and Little Grey in Shanghai last April and following their journey, which has been far from straightforward, has been a real eye opener.

‘This is a film about hope, despair, disappointment, tenacity, realism and dreams and as I write this I still don't know truly how it will end.’

Support this amazing new home for Little White and Little Grey

Please help us today with a donation

Ensuring the sanctuary’s long-term future is a priority as it will provide a safe environment for Little White and Little Grey for the rest of their lives, as well as for the whales who come here in the future.



  1. Olivia on 6th May 2020 at 3:21 pm

    This is fantastic news, I cannot wait to see footage of them experiencing an ocean like setting. Keep up the great work, and thank you.

  2. Caroline on 22nd May 2020 at 9:15 am

    This is so exciting to hear. I hope these two beautiful Whales have a wonderful life back where they belong.
    I wish them much joy and peace and hope they sing loudly and often with happiness ❤️

  3. MISS EVELYN K TAYLOR on 22nd May 2020 at 9:36 am

    Firstly i want to thank everyone involved in the rescue of these two beautiful beluga whales from the worst country in the whole world and caring for them until this wonderful sanctuary was built, this is wonderful news to know they will live out their day’s the way they should in the sea not being used as entertainment for selfish people who don’t give a damn about their feelings,i am so so happy and can’t wait to see the footage later this year, you are amazing people and i love you all and hope you can keep up the good work and rescue loads more like little blue and little white xxx

  4. Linda on 22nd May 2020 at 11:00 pm


  5. mandy on 28th September 2020 at 1:56 pm

    I have seen John Bishop promoting the ITV documentary but cannot find out what it is called or when it is on – can anyone please advise details of this programme. Thanks

    • Julia Pix on 9th October 2020 at 12:15 pm

      Hi Mandy – our apologies for the delay in responding. The programme is called John Bishop’s Great Whale Rescue and part 1 airs on ITV1 at 9pm Monday 12th.

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