The sanctuary, which will take the form of a 32,000 square-metre sea pen, will be home to two 12-year-old beluga whales.
The whales, nicknamed “Little White” and “Little Grey,” are currently kept at Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, where they perform for visitors.
Sea Life Trust, a conservation charity, has spent six years developing the project.
“Little White and Little Grey have been in the aquarium since 2011,” said Andy Bool, Head of Sea Life Trust.
“They’re still relatively young. Belugas can live to 40 or 50 years old in the wild. So the aim of the sanctuary is to provide a home for them for the rest of their natural life.”
Their ambitious journey from China to Iceland will take more than 35 hours and encompass 6,000 miles.
“It is a difficult process to transport them, and it can be quite stressful for them,” said Cathy Williamson, WDC End Captivity Programme Lead.
“Unfortunately the alternative is to leave them in their concrete tank in Shanghai, and that’s not good for their health and welfare either.”
The whales will need time to re-adjust, having spent years away from deep and subarctic water, but anti-captivity activists hope the unprecedented move will pave the way for similar projects in the future.
Their new home will be Klettsvik Bay in Iceland’s Westman Islands, which was the location for the film Free Willy.
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