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Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

What have dead whales ever done for us?

When dead whales wash up on dry land they provide a vital food source for...
Risso's dolphin © Andy Knight

We’re getting to know Risso’s dolphins in Scotland so we can protect them

Citizen scientists in Scotland are helping us better understand Risso's dolphins by sending us their...
Pilot whales pooing © Christopher Swann

Talking crap and carcasses to protect our planet

We know we need to save the whale to save the world because they are...
Fin whales are targeted by Icelandic whalers

Speaking truth to power – my week giving whales a voice

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting is where governments come together to make decisions about whaling...

Why do whales and dolphins strand on beaches?

People often ask me 'why' whales and dolphins do one thing or another.  I'm a...
A spinner dolphin leaping © Andrew Sutton/Eco2

Head in a spin – my incredible spinner dolphin encounter

Sri Lanka is home to at least 30 species of whales and dolphins, from the...
Sperm whale (physeter macrocephalus) Gulf of California. The tail of a sperm whale.

To protect whales, we must stop ignoring the high seas

Almost two-thirds of the ocean, or 95% of the habitable space on Earth, are sloshing...
WDC team at UN Ocean conference

Give the ocean a chance – our message from the UN Ocean Conference

I'm looking out over the River Tejo in Lisbon, Portugal, reflecting on the astounding resilience...
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Port River dolphins

New report reveals 100,000 dolphins and small whales hunted every year

When you hear the words ‘dolphin hunts’ it’s likely that you think of Japan or...

Minke whale hunts stop in Iceland

Iceland’s commercial hunt of minke whales has ended for this year. The common minke whale is the...

Icelandic whalers breach international law and kill iconic, protected whale by mistake

Icelandic whalers out hunting fin whales for the first time in three years appear to...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...

End the whale hunts! Icelandic fin whaler isolated as public mood shifts

Here’s a sight I hoped never again to witness. A boat being scrubbed and repainted...

Australian Government to block Japanese whaling proposal

Japanese Government officials have reportedly confirmed that they will propose the resumption of commercial whaling...

Pregnant whales once again a target for Japanese whalers

Figures from Japan's whaling expedition to Antarctica during the 2017/18 austral summer have revealed that...

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...

SOS alert for whales off Norway!

I have to admit to bitter disappointment when I arrived in Tromsø, northern Norway, a...

Norway's whaling season begins

April 1st saw the start of the whaling season in Norway. Despite a widely-accepted international moratorium...

Norway increases whaling quota despite declining demand

Norway's government has announced an increase in the number of minke whales that can be...

How do you build a beluga whale sanctuary?

Preparing a new home for two ex-captive belugas is a wonderful world first.

The future of the two captive beluga whales we are building a sanctuary for, in a remote location in Iceland, is looking more certain by the day. As the weather improves and we get the necessary endorsements for our sanctuary to be built, we are getting closer to the stage when we can put the first spade in the ground. So how do you build a sanctuary for belugas?

Our beluga sanctuary will be the world’s first. We know from the swim-with-dolphins industry that captive dolphins and even belugas can survive in areas of coastline that are netted-off. But, these sea pen facilities are often overcrowded, in unsuitable areas with shallow water and at risk from pollution.

In contrast to these commercial facilities, which are built and operated to provide entertainment to human visitors wanting to swim with dolphins, our sanctuary will be built for belugas. The welfare of the whales will be our primary concern as we create an environment which will enable them to live as natural a life as possible.  A safe, secure net will be strung across Klettsvik Bay in Iceland’s Westman Islands and anchored to the sea floor. Sadly, as these belugas have been in captivity for so long, it’s not possible to simply release them into the open ocean – they wouldn’t know how to survive. So this net will enclose a large area of sea within which the belugas will be able to roam and explore its natural features and wildlife and feel the rhythm of waves and tides and the dynamic power of the North Atlantic weather. The seaward side of the sea pen will be buffered by floating breakwaters called wave attenuators, which will help to reduce wave action in a bay that can experience severe storms throughout the year. The sea pen will be built before the winter and robustly tested through the season of most severe storms and ice before the belugas can be moved into it.

Across the bay in the small town of Vestmannaeyjar, existing buildings will be renovated and expanded to accommodate a visitor centre and critical care pool. The critical care pool is essential and will provide an indoor space where the belugas will recover after their long journey from Shanghai. It will also provide somewhere the belugas can be brought, if absolutely necessary, in an emergency. This could be an injury or illness that cannot be effectively treated in the sea pen, a pollution incident such as an oil spill or very severe weather. Adjacent to the pool will be laboratories dedicated to non-invasive beluga research and care. Visitors to the centre will be able to learn the story of the belugas, about belugas in the wild and what they can do to help protect them. There is already a puffin hospital on the site and we will add local natural history exhibits. Every spring, thousands of baby puffins (pufflings) are blown off course and end up on the streets of Vestmannaeyjar. Local people rescue these disorientated young birds and bring them to the puffin hospital to be checked over before returning them to the wild.

Belugas are naturally found in harsh, Arctic and sub-arctic environments and are naturally suited to northern climes, where daylight is in short supply for much of the year. In such a location, work outside, particularly in a marine environment, can be hampered by rain, winds, ice and fog, even in the middle of summer. There’s a relatively short window in which building work will be possible, and interruptions due to poor weather and extreme environmental conditions all need to be taken into account. The sea pen in particular needs to be weather proof, wave proof and saltwater proof as well as resilient to possible damage from curious belugas!

Construction on the world’s first sanctuary for captive belugas will soon begin. As a world first, there has been much to learn and there will be more to learn as our project progresses. The expertise involved at all levels gives us reassurance that the sanctuary will provide a safe, but much more natural, and stimulating environment for the beluga individuals who come to live out the rest of their lives in retirement. The proof of the pudding will be in how Little White and Little Grey, the first belugas we will be bringing to Iceland, enjoy their new, purpose-built, safe and healthy, natural sanctuary. We hope they thrive there and that their time performing tricks for human ‘entertainment’ becomes a distant memory for them.