It has been 10 years since two beluga whales, Little Grey and Little White, have seen the ocean.
The whales were just 2 years old when they were captured in waters off Russia and brought to Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, China.
Since then, they've lived in tanks.
Now Little Grey and Little White are 12 years old. They might have been stuck in captivity for another several decades — beluga whales can live to be as old as 50 or 60 in the wild — but everything just changed for them.
This week, some visitors arrived in China to let Little Grey and Little White in on a little secret that's been developing for quite a while, thanks to Sea Life Trust: They are finally going home.
Little Grey and Little White will be the first residents of the first open-water beluga whale sanctuary in the world.
This short underwater camera clip offers a glimpse of Little Grey and Little White's new home in a breathtakingly beautiful bay on an island off the southern coast of Iceland.
Beluga's-eye view!— Beluga Sanctuary (@BelugaSanctuary) May 23, 2019
Here's a peak beneath the waves of Klettsvik Bay where Little White and Little Grey will live, play and search for food. Not a bad daily commute, eh? pic.twitter.com/79miNsKJZ3
The challenge, of course, was transporting them there — it's a journey of about 6,000 miles, and even once Little Grey and Little White arrive, they will need to go through a process getting them prepared to live in the open water again.
But people working on their retirement journey have every confidence that the belugas will adapt to their new home.
“I’ve studied and worked with beluga whales for most of my adult life," Mark Todd, an independent marine mammal behavior expert and consultant on the sanctuary, said in a statement provided to The Dodo. "They are highly intelligent marine mammals, and each possesses unique character traits. They are a playful and curious species with an incredible ability to learn new things quickly and through their range of vocalizations will tell you what they like and don’t like without hesitation."
The staff at Changfeng Ocean World, who have known Little Grey and Little White for years, were supportive of sending the whales to sanctuary, helping prepare them for the trip, even if they were a bit heartbroken to have to say goodbye.
"We’ll be sad to see them leave but we understand that they come from nature, so this project is allowing them to go back home," Iker Wang, head trainer at Changfeng Ocean World, said. "We all feel happy for Little Grey and Little White.”