The Westman Islands city council signed a 20-year lease yesterday with Beluga Building Company Ltd. for the building of a whale sanctuary to house two beluga whales on their way to Iceland from China.
“This is both an animal welfare project and a tourism project,” says Westman Islands mayor Elliði Vignisson. The two whales are currently housed in a Shanghai amusement park where they are kept in concrete pools. As they were raised in captivity, it is impossible to release them into the wild, but they will be provided with better living conditions in their new Icelandic home. “These are exhibition animals and will remain as such, but with completely different and more humane conditions,” Elliði says.
In the Westman Islands, the whales will be housed in a sea pen. In addition, a pool will be built which the animals can be transferred in case of bad weather or need of special care. The whales' transport from China has already been approved by the Environment Agency of Iceland and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority. They are expected to arrive in March of next year.
Beluga Building Company is a subsidiary of Merlin Entertainments, a British-based company which operates attractions and hotels in 27 countries around the world. Attractions belonging to the company include Legoland theme parks and celebrity wax museums under the Madame Tussaud’s brand.