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Captive beluga Jun Jun dies

Jun Jun, a 17-year-old female beluga at Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, China, has died. 

WDC has been working with Ocean World’s owners, Merlin to establish a sanctuary for her and two other belugas she is held with in Shanghai and is deeply saddened by the fact that she will now never have the opportunity to go there.

Jun Jun’s necropsy results reveal she died from a bleed on the brain, although the cause of this is unknown and further tests are being conducted. Since the purchase of the aquarium, Merlin, with WDC support, and other experts around the world have been focusing on increasing the belugas’ health and social behaviour through improvements in the whales’ environment and the way the facilities and belugas are managed.

Jun Jun had a long term underlying health condition that experts had been working hard to address and this made her a more vulnerable individual. She had, however, been showing a great deal of improvement in recent months as Merlin’s team and other experts implemented plans to improve the belugas’ health and fitness in preparation for their big move . In the wild, belugas can live as long as 60 years. In captivity, belugas routinely die before the age of 30 and most die in their teens and twenties.

In captivity, whales and dolphins suffer particular health and welfare problems . When Merlin Entertainments bought Changfeng Ocean World in 2012, the fate of the three whales changed for the positive. This is because Merlin has a strict policy against keeping whales and dolphins in captivity and when the belugas came into Merlin’s care, they started working in partnership with WDC on creating the world’s first sanctuary for captive belugas.

Sanctuaries provide an alternative, more natural environment for captive whales and dolphins where they can recover health and fitness, behave more naturally with their environment, one another and care staff and live more fulfilling lives. It’s a complicated process to establish a sanctuary, and we are making good progress, but there are still many hurdles to overcome, including testing the site we have identified, preparing the belugas for long-distance transport and obtaining the necessary permits from both the host and destination countries.

Recent news reports from Iceland have stated that the sanctuary will be set up there. We can confirm a site in Iceland is our preferred option, but there are still several hurdles to overcome. As always, we will keep you posted on that and other news about the sanctuary.

We had hoped to be able to bring Jun Jun to a sanctuary to live a long and full life. Sadly, that option is no longer available to us or, tragically, to her. If anything, though, this sad event demonstrates more than ever the need for sanctuaries and makes us all the more determined to get over any hurdles still facing the project and get the sanctuary set up.

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