Oh, to be a whale en route to the open ocean, strapped into your specially made sky stretcher and hoisted into belly-flop position, your smooth cetacean skin rippling in blubbery anticipation of the big plop, the return to the icy waters of your calfhood and the 24-hour fish buffet that lies below. What an incomparable feeling, the thrill that comes before your splash-landing into a whole sea of freedom. Imagine! If you can!
And if you cannot — understandable at this point in time — perhaps resign yourself to living vicariously through two big belugas, the second-most-winning type of whale, according to our comprehensive power ranking, and possibly also the freakiest. The two heroes at the center of our story are on their way back to their natural habitat after months of logistical chaos and a long, involuntary stint in captivity.
According to CNN, Little Grey and Little White “are enjoying their first taste of the sea since 2011,” when they were captured as youths off the coast of Russia. These belugas were not conscripted into Russia’s leviathan spy army, which seems like a reasonably fulfilling career, but instead were transferred to Changfeng Ocean World aquarium in Shanghai. One year later, their new home came under the ownership of Merlin Entertainments, a company that opposed keeping the large lads in captivity. But one cannot simply set them loose in any old ocean, not when they had become accustomed to aquarium life. Littles Grey and White had to be transported to colder waters, a process that reportedly involved “trucks, tugboats, and cranes” and took years, CNN reports. Each whale weighs over a ton, and the two together run through more than 100 pounds of fish per day. They also required special machinery to remain chilled and hydrated throughout their odyssey.
“We had to make the belugas as comfortable as possible” so they would have “a positive association with travel,” Audrey Padgett, general manager of the Beluga Whale Sanctuary in Iceland, told CNN. “It’s been quite the journey for these two. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s definitely been a labor of love.”
Although the coronavirus pandemic complicated the whales’ transition from a quarantined care facility into the sanctuary, they now have a spacious acclimatization zone at their disposal with all manner of new and exotic ocean snacks to enjoy. This is a joyous moment for the whales, and if they are happy — which, just look at them — then I am happy. And maybe also a little jealous, because who among us does not yearn for the cranes to come roll us gently into the sea?