Beluga in Vladivostok Oceanarium | Photo: Jason Rogers, License: CC BY 2.0

Beluga Whale Sanctuary fails again

Exclusively for – 02.06.2023. Author: Philipp J. Kroiß

The two belugas are going back again: once more, it is not possible to keep Little Grey and Little White in the Beluga Whale Sanctuary.

Beluga Whale Sanctuary fails again

A short while ago, activists celebrated the move of Little White and Little Grey from the small indoor tank into a sea pen as a big success. Apparently, everything had worked out oh so well.

It is questionable whether this ever reflected reality or not. The self-proclaimed sanctuary had also become suspiciously quiet around the time. Then, they hesitantly announced that Little Grey’s appetite was diminishing. In order to calm the fans who were nervous due to the rumours, they assured that the veterinarian was taking special care of the sick beluga. By the end of May 2023, the Icelandic media reported that the two whales were back in their small indoor tanks.

Little Grey is receiving antibiotics

Neither the vets nor caretakers seem to really know what is wrong with the beluga. The Icelandic media reported that all sorts of blood and flu tests were being carried out. Even the rain is considered a potential cause of the reaction since the animals are not used to it. However, the group is confident that with the help of vitamins and antibiotics, Little Grey is already doing better. Yet there is still no diagnosis.

Antibiotics are effective against bacteria. If the account that she is doing better thanks to them is true the problem seems to be bacterial. This makes sense: the belugas’ immune system is not adapted to the wild. In addition, belugas are not naturally present around Iceland. What’s more, they are living in the gutter of the region’s busiest waterway. It is highly doubtful that a beluga’s immune system could ever withstand such stresses.

Endless back and forth?

Sea Pen in the bay of Klettsvík (Heimaey, Iceland) | Photograph: Hansueli Krapf, license: CC BY-SA 2.5

For greenwashing purposes, Merlin Entertainments – a company that has never had a skilled nor even lucky hand with whale husbandry – had transported the animals to Iceland under much PR fuss. Initially, there were three; however, one of the animals did not even survive the preparations for transport. They then sold this “rescue” in the media, again with much palaver. The media reports never mentioned the fact that Merlin simply bought the animals in China.

Already the first introduction into the sea pen went wrong, and what followed was a very long time in the tiny indoor tanks, during which fans were continuously put off. A couple of weeks ago, the time had come for the whales to go back to the sea pen. The animals could not endure it there for long, and thus they went back into the tiny backstage pools onshore. It seems that it will be an endless back and forth. This comes as no surprise to industry experts: Merlin Entertainments, with its aquarium brand Sea Life, is not known for good animal welfare.

Sanctuary is not working

It is not surprising that the collection of net cages, known as sea pens, that makes up the sanctuary is not working. The term sea pen is quite euphemistic. Sea Life, through whose trust Merlin Entertainments is handling the whole project, was warned about this very outcome. However, the radical anti-dolphinarium organisation WDC thought the project was a great idea and was certain it would work. The last time they even reported about the project was about a year ago.

Are anti-zoo activists realising that their supposedly better alternative is much worse? They remain silent on the issue and whitewash it. Scientists and experts already knew.

For cetaceans, i.e. whales in general, including dolphins and delphinoidea, sea pens, often euphemistically called sanctuaries, are not a better alternative to keeping them in accredited and/or certified zoos, aquariums or dolphinariums.

How long is this to continue?

Beluga (white whale) in L’Oceanogràfic | Photograph: Carquinyol, license: CC BY-SA 2.0

Those in charge of the Beluga Whale Sanctuary show no intention of desisting from their evident failures. The belugas are constantly in the far too tiny tanks onshore for long periods of time. This is only legal because of the poor whale protection that exists in the whaling nation of Iceland. The animal rights industry and its collaborators had already benefitted from this in the case of Keiko. This is hardly in the animals’ best interest.

There are excellent beluga husbandries in Europe and the US, where the animals could live happy lives. The two females could perhaps even start a family and thus leave behind the terrible years they spent first in China and then Iceland. Real experts would be taking care of the animals here. However, greenwashing is more important to Merlin Entertainments and Sea Life than the welfare of the animals. Currently, many media are still playing along and looking the other way when things go wrong.

Share this post