Merlin Entertainment Seeks to Move Belugas to Sanctuary
Merlin, a British company that specializes in amusement parks, is looking to create a whale sanctuary off the coast of Iceland and to relocate three belugas there.
Merlin recently bought an amusement park in Shanghai, China, that has three belugas on display. But the company is opposed to keeping whales and dolphins in tanks and supports the development of retirement sanctuaries for performing animals. And so, it has been working with a small Icelandic town, Vestmannaeyjarbær, along with marine biologists, whale experts, agents from the local tourism industry and the British non-profit Whale and Dolphin Conservation, to create the sanctuary.
Ironically, Merlin Entertainment, which owns 100 parks in 25 countries, was owned until 2015 by the same giant investment company, The Blackstone Group, that owns SeaWorld, a company that’s fully invested in keeping whales and dolphins on display in concreate tanks. While Merlin has been thriving, SeaWorld has been struggling, to the point where, this week, shareholders reportedly voted board chair David D’Alessandro off the board.
According to the Iceland Monitor, the proposed sanctuary would be in Iceland’s Westman Islands, which also hosted Keiko the whale after he’d been freed from an amusement park in Mexico City. Keiko lived in the Westman Islands from 1998 to 2002, while he was learning how to care for himself before being released back to the wild.
A press release from Vestmannaeyjarbær town says that while this would be an animal welfare project like any other, the sanctuary would be very beneficial to local tourism. There’s a long way to go, however, and the group is still working on getting all the permissions necessary from the Icelandic government.
The news from Iceland is the third of its kind over the last year. Exactly a year ago, June 14th, 2016, the National Aquarium in Baltimore announced plans to build a seaside sanctuary, either in Florida or the Caribbean, and to move all seven of the dolphins currently at the aquarium to the new sanctuary by 2020. And a month earlier, the Whale Sanctuary Project announced plans to create the first North American seaside sanctuary for whales and dolphins who are retired from display in concrete tanks.