Two beluga whales are to be flown halfway around the world to be the star attraction of an open water sanctuary that was once the home of the killer whale Keiko who was star of the 1993 movie Free Willy.
The whales are being transported from an amusement park in the eastern Chinese city of Shanghai to a cove in Iceland which will be the world’s first open water sanctuary for the species.
Video Credit: CEN/@BelugaSanctuary
The Beluga Whale Sanctuary, due to open in the spring, is the initiative of Merlin Entertainment, one of the largest visitor attraction companies in the world, which runs Sea Life Centres, Madame Tussauds, Legoland and the London Eye.
It has joined forces with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation charity and local officials to develop the project at Klettsvik bay on Heimaey island, the largest island of the Westman archipelago off the coast of Iceland.
The whales, named Little White and Little Grey, face a 9,600-kilometre (5,965-mile) journey from the Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai to Iceland.
They will be flown inside purpose-built tanks in a Cargolux Boeing 747-400ERF freight plane to the Icelandic capital city of Reykjavik before being transported to their final destination in specially designed shipping trucks.
The whales are currently in training for their journey. They need to practice their open water swimming and gain weight to cope with the colder climate.
Merlin Entertainments owns and runs 124 attractions in 25 countries across four continents but the whale sanctuary, and accompanying visitor centre, will be its first venture in Iceland.
Visitors will be allowed to observe and get to know the whales but access will be restricted to make sure the whales are not disturbed as they get used to their new environment.
Little White and Little Grey are both 12 years old. Belugas can live for up to 50 years, so whale enthusiasts can look forward to watching them live their lives in open water for decades to come.
Keiko lived at Klettsvik bay from 1998 until 2002 in preparation for being released into the wild after its successful movie role in Free Willy.
He was eventually freed but later died, of suspected pneumonia, in a Norwegian fjord. Experts believe he failed to fully adapt to the wild after more than 20 years in captivity.