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Beluga whale smiles after rescue and release from Shanghai aquarium

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Beluga whale Little Grey smiling

NEWS-VIEWS: It seems to me, and to others, that Beluga whales can smile. We don’t know for sure whether they are experiencing happiness at the time. One day we will. And we will understand with certainty that Beluga whales experience a range of emotions like any other sentient being.

Beluga whale Little Grey smiling

Beluga whale Little Grey smiling. Photo: PA.

In the meanwhile, we have a good story of animal rescue. Two female belugas were transported from captivity in China to a new ocean refuge 6000 miles away. A British charity, Sea Life Trust, is to be thanked. The 12-year-old whales are Little Grey and Little White. They were taken to a sanctuary in Iceland. They were performing tricks at Ocean World in Shanghai. It’s the first time they have enjoyed the open sea since they were taken in 2011. No wonder they’re smiling.

The operation took a lot of planning. Sea Life Trust transported the whales from Shanghai to Iceland in a lorry, a harbour tugboat, and a Boeing 747 cargo aircraft. It was clearly highly complex and it must be very expensive but well worth the money as far as I am concerned.

Little Grey high in the air at Iceland

Little Grey high in the air at Iceland. Photo: PA.

They were released in their new home, in an open water sanctuary in Klettsvik Bay in Iceland. The whales are currently exploring a part of the open sea sanctuary before they are released into the wider area of it. Andy Bool of the Sea Life Trust is deservedly delighted in the successful operation. He said that they are safely in their sea sanctuary care pools and one step away from being released into open water. The operation went as planned.

The Sea Life centres are owned by a British company, Merlin Entertainments. They acquired the Chinese operation in 2012. The comedian John Bishop assisted the Sea Life Trust team during this transfer. They say that Little Grey is very playful with a mischievous side to her character. She likes to spit water at her care team. Little White was more reserved but likes to play too and forms close bonds with her human carers.

Beluga whales live up to 60 years of age in the wild and there are an estimated 200,000. They live in the Artic and sub-Artic. They are also known as the white whale. They are cretaceans and adapted to life in the Arctic with anatomical and physiological characteristics which differentiates them from other cretaceans.