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The residents of the world's first whale sanctuary

Plans to return beluga whales, Little White and Little Grey to their sea sanctuary in Iceland have now had to be postponed due to an unprecedented incident, which happened in the bay last week.

The main support and diving contractor’s boat sank in Klettsvik Bay just hours before the whales were due to move, resulting in the loss of key equipment, but most significantly a substantial oil and fuel leakage. An inspection is underway to understand the damage caused to the habitat and infrastructure but sadly the oil and fuel contamination from the boat means it is currently unsafe for the whales to return to the bay.

We don’t yet know the length of time it will take to conduct the clean-up and repairs in the bay and with the fast-approaching winter months, this would significantly limit Little Grey and Little White’s time planned in the ocean sanctuary. Due to all these factors, the very difficult decision has been taken by the care team to postpone the whales' return to the sea sanctuary until spring 2023.

After months of careful planning and preparation, this is not the news we were hoping to bring but Little Grey and Little White’s welfare continues to be the team’s top priority and we would like to thank the team and the local community for their continued hard work and commitment to making this pioneering world first project possible. We also appreciate all the help from the local community as well as all those involved in the salvage and clean-up.

We want to thank everyone for your continued support, understanding and for your ongoing encouragement on this world-first project.

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Read a full statement from the SEA LIFE Trust

Due to an unprecedented incident involving our primary diving contractor´s boat sinking in the Klettsvik Bay facility resulting in oil and fuel leakage, SEA LIFE Trust can confirm that Little Grey and Little White’s planned return to the sea sanctuary has been postponed.

Just hours before the whales were due to move, the Beluga Whale Sanctuary team were shocked to discover that the boat had sunk in the bay in the early hours on Sunday 14 August.

An immediate inspection was launched to understand the damage caused to the sanctuary’s habitat and infrastructure. Sadly, oil and fuel contamination from the boat was discovered and, as part of the salvage operation, part of the sea sanctuary structure had to be dismantled. As a result, it is currently unsafe for the whales to return to the bay and the exact repair time is unknown.

Little Grey and Little White’s welfare continues to be the team’s top priority. Due to the length of time, it is likely to take to conduct the environmental clean-up and repair operation, the return of the whales into Klettsvik Bay has had to be postponed until spring 2023 to allow them an appropriate amount of time to acclimatise in the sea sanctuary before the more changeable winter weather begins.

After months of careful planning, preparation, and investment, the team are devastated by this unexpected news and its impact on both our sanctuary and the contract diver team we work closely with here on the island. We would like to thank the team and the local community for their continued hard work and commitment to making this pioneering world first project possible. That work will continue in the coming months, and we remain committed to returning the belugas to the sea sanctuary as soon as it is safe to do so.

As with each step of the Beluga Whale Sanctuary project, Little Grey and Little White’s dedicated care schedule remains ongoing in their landside care facility. Both whales are in excellent health and as always with their Little Steps programme, we will continue to be guided by their individual welfare needs.

We will continue to work closely with the local authorities to understand what happened to the boat.

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