Cargolux has become the official transport partner working with registered charity SEA LIFE Trust and project partner Whale and Dolphin Conservation to help relocate two beluga whales, Little Grey and Little White from China to Iceland this spring.
The 6,000-mile journey will see the two belugas move from Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai via land, air and sea to Klettsvik Bay in Heimaey, one of the Westman Islands off the southern coast of Iceland.
According to SEA LIFE, the natural secluded bay will be the world’s first open-water sanctuary for whales and is part of a global marine welfare project. The bay, which measures approximately 32,000 square metres with a depth of up to 10 metres, has been chosen to provide a more natural sub-Arctic environment and wild habitat for whales.
“This is a complex but truly inspiring project to be working on and we are extremely grateful to Cargolux for their generosity in becoming our official transport partner and helping us move Little White and Little Grey to their new, more natural home,” said Andy Bool, head of SEA LIFE Trust. “Cargolux has years of experience working on many of the most logistically intricate projects and their teams have been working with our animal care team, veterinarians and marine experts to ensure we provide the very best journey for Little Grey and Little White. We have also been working with Little Grey and Little White for months preparing them for the journey which includes specialist equipment and bespoke stretchers as well as a whole host of leading animal experts who will work around-the-clock as the whales make the journey to their new home.”
The sanctuary is backed by a donation from Merlin Entertainments and will include a landside care facility and visitor centre. The bay will be enclosed by netting from the surface to the bottom and will include pontoons that provide access for care teams to look after Little White and Little Grey. The pontoons also include small enclosures to allow the team to provide one-on-one care for either of the belugas when required.
The two belugas will be flown from Shanghai to Keflavik on a chartered Boeing 747-400ERF, which features special decals depicting Little Grey and Little White.
“Cargolux is honoured to have been entrusted with two such incredible whales,” said Richard Forson, president and chief executive officer of Cargolux. “This is a ground-breaking project and one which our animal transport experts are proud to be part of. We are meticulously preparing for the move this spring to ensure a seamless journey for Little Grey and Little White.”
Cargolux is a signatory to the UN Global Compact and committed to the UN’s Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals. The airline said that conservation and sustainable development rank high on its list of priorities, and that partnerships such as this are of prime importance and reflect its engagement as well as that of its employees.
The complex logistical challenge of transporting the two belugas is being planned by a team of global experts with experience in transporting marine mammals. The whole journey will take around 24 hours to complete.
Each beluga will first be individually lifted onto specially designed stretchers and placed into specially built transportation boxes before being lifted out of the aquarium by crane and placed into two lorries. They will then travel by road from Changfeng Ocean World to Shanghai Pudong International Airport, where the Cargolux 747 freighter will fly them to Keflavik Airport. After the flight, Little Grey and Little White will be transferred onto two individual lorries for a two-hour drive from the airport to a ferry port for the 30-minute crossing to Heimaey. Once the ferry has docked on Heimaey, lorries will drive a short distance to the town of Vestmannaeyjar where Little Grey and Little White will be transferred to the beluga sanctuary landside facility and placed into a special care pool so they can be assessed following their journey.
“Whales and dolphins are highly intelligent creatures and are not suited to being held in a small pool performing tricks,” said Cathy Williamson, policy manager at WDC. “It is hoped that this project will help to encourage the rehabilitation of more captive whales into a more natural environment in the future, and one day bring an end to the use of whales and dolphins for human entertainment. We are hugely grateful to Cargolux for helping to make this a reality.”