Varney reiterates cetacean stance as Merlin closes in on world first whale sanctuary
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Varney reiterates cetacean stance as Merlin closes in on world first whale sanctuary

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We hope the project will help to encourage the rehabilitation of more captive whales into natural environments in the future

Merlin chief executive Nick Varney has reiterated the company's stance on cetacean captivity, as it embarks on its first steps to create an ocean sanctuary for a pair of captive beluga whales.

In 2012, Merlin acquired the Living and Leisure Australia Group (LLA), which within its attractions portfolio included Shanghai Chang Feng Ocean World in China – home to the two whales. Since Merlin's foundation in 1979, company policy has dictated that marine mammals such as whales and dolphins should not be held in captivity. Raised in captivity however, the belugas are unable to be released back into the ocean.

In June earlier this year, Merlin announced plans to open a first of its kind whale sanctuary in Iceland, with the aquarium's belugas to be transported there in the first or second quarter 2019.

"Since the acquisition of LLA, Merlin has been committed to finding a sustainable solution to the long term care of the beluga whales at Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai," said Varney, in a review of the first half of the year for Merlin.

"This reflects our long held view that cetaceans should not be kept in captivity. To this end, working with its partner charity the Sea Life Trust and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Merlin has found a suitable location in a small bay on Heimaey Island on the south coast of Iceland."

Measuring 32,000sq m (344,000sq ft), the inlet at the Klettsvik Bay will offer the whales a more natural sub-Arctic environment and wild habitat. The sanctuary is being built and operated by the Sea Life Trust and WDC, with a visitor centre also under development to support ongoing costs.

Cetecean captivity has been a hot topic for operators worldwide in recent years, SeaWorld and its orcas taking the most heat. With governments and aquariums worldwide starting to phase out cetacean captivity, campaigners hope the steps taken by Merlin will encourage other operators to release their whales and dolphins into more natural environments.

"We hope the project will help to encourage the rehabilitation of more captive whales into natural environments in the future," said Varney.

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Merlin chief executive Nick Varney has reiterated the company's stance on cetacean captivity, as it embarks on its first steps to create an ocean sanctuary for a pair of captive beluga whales.
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