Ever since the documentary Blackfish, controversy has been growing about keeping whales and dolphins in captivity. Dolphin and whale attractions bring in millions of visitors and millions of dollars, but public opinion is changing. In some countries, captive cetaceans are increasingly seen as an awkward asset rather than an out and out ‘must have’. However, in China whale and dolphin shows remain common and much loved.
The company that acquired the Chinese park where Little White and Little Grey live has a policy of not keeping cetaceans in captivity, and so set about finding a new home for the whales.
That is not a simple task. The logistics – the transporting and releasing – are fraught with danger and are hugely expensive. And animals that have lived in captivity for years, often decades, need to be totally re-trained to cope with life in an open water sanctuary. This has never been done before: it is the first ever open water whale sanctuary in the world.
The hope is for Little White and Little Grey to be the first of many: they are both trail-blazers and guinea pigs.
Their carers and a team of scientists are training them to acquire the skills they will need: they will have to learn how to fend for themselves; to use their sonar to find their way; and to learn what is safe and not safe in their sanctuary.