The beluga whales that were finally rescued

Shutterstock.com/ Elena Yakusheva

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Two beluga whales are being returned to the water after many years in captivity. The whales were on show in a Chinese aquarium but have now been successfully fought for and will soon be returned to the wild.

The two beluga whales, named little grey and little white were captured close to Russia in 2011 and were trained to perform shows for large audiences. They lived a life of captivity in a small amount of water and while they entertained large crowds an increasing number of people simply felt sorry for them. 

The project was years in the making and was a mammoth task but is now almost complete. Beluga whales are classified as ‘near threatened’. There are approximately 150,000 in the wild but they are in danger from hunters. Commercial fisheries and indigenous tribes in the artic both continue to fish the beluga whale. In certain areas evidence has shown that the Beluga whale population has decreased by over 50%. In Greenland for example the population fell by 62% from 1981 to 1994. 

The beluga whale is often called the canary of the sea as it is one of the most vocal whales. It is also one of the smallest. It is easily spotted by its bright white color and massive head. Its closest relation is the Narwhal or unicorn of the sea, although the beluga does not have a horn.

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In August, the two whales were flown nearly 10,000 km to reach Iceland. Here they have been placed in a sanctuary so that they can rehabilitate further in open water. After nine years in captivity performing shows and being controlled, the open seas may be a daunting proposition for Little Grey and Little White.

The sanctuary in Iceland is hopefully the last stop for the two whales before they are released. Experts will monitor their behavior and if they appear to be able to cope in the water then they will be set free. On some occasions, animals that have been in captivity for too long are never able to go back into the wild. 

While zoos, circuses, and aquariums have been common practice for a long time. We must now start to look at them in a different light. These entertainment operations are sacrificing the welfare of animals for the brief enjoyment of the audience. There are numerous documentaries that show the torture these animals face and the terrible experiences they are subjected to. If you watch the documentary Blackfish you will see incredible first-hand evidence of the terrible practices that went on and how they not only harmed the sealife but put the lives of trainers at risk continuously too. 

Circuses are attracting record low numbers and the majority will likely go out of business in the next ten years. The solution for these businesses is simple. They must really embrace animal conservation and animal welfare instead of just talking about it. There is a place for a business that houses and helps animals that need it and allows audiences to watch this take place. The time of training these animals to perform tricks is over.

However, there is still a role to play to increase awareness and education, and all of these businesses can play a role in that future. While bullfighting has been shamed for many years now as the terrible behavior was conducted right on stage, it is time to take a closer look at businesses that may be subjecting animals to horrific acts in the background or in more subtle ways. Animal welfare is an important matter and something we should take a stronger interest in.

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