Giant ‘halo’ habitat sails 48 miles to support belugas return to Icelandic sanctuary bay home

21/04/2022 10:25:53

  • Incredible drone footage captures the moment a tugboat pulls the giant halo-like structure into the harbour on remote Icelandic island

  • The Intermediate Habitat is 50m in diameter and will further support belugas Little Grey and Little White adapt to their sea sanctuary home

  • The SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary confirms Little Grey and Little White will be able to move back into their open water home once the intermediate habitat is secured in place

A specially designed floating habitat (adapted especially for this world-first project) has been created as an additional step to support two beluga whales’ return to their open water sea sanctuary home. It arrived at a remote Icelandic island following an extraordinary 16-hour journey by tugboat.

Designed and created especially for the world’s first SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary, seafarers would be forgiven for looking twice at the incredible structure which resembles a giant halo when it made the 48 mile crossing on freezing waters from mainland Iceland to Heimaey.

Measuring 50 meters in diameter and weighing almost 17 tonnes, the arrival of the Intermediate Habitat, constructed with support funding from the QATO Foundation marks a significant milestone in the future of the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary.  It also moves Little Grey and Little White one step closer to returning to their sea sanctuary after the next phase of construction is completed.

The whales are part of a pioneering welfare programme with the plan to help introduce the whales gradually into their much larger sanctuary home over time.

Led by their expert welfare care team, the ‘Little Steps’ programme will see the new Intermediate Habitat installed to help bring about a safe and successful transition for the whales from the sea care pools to the main bay which is approximately 32,000 sqm with a depth of up to 10m (equivalent of the size of 17 tennis courts).

Although both whales were first introduced to the main bay in 2020, they adapted at different paces and Little White acclimatised at a slower pace. The welfare data revealed differences in some of their behaviours and the pace in which each whale was adapting to changes in the natural environment.

The Intermediate Habitat is designed to have a net which reaches to the seabed, allowing Little Grey and Little White access to the sea floor to explore the fauna and flora of the natural habitat. Work on the habitat is taking place within the Vestmannaeyjar harbour before it will be installed at Klettsvik Bay ahead of the beluga’s move back to the sanctuary.

Due to a series of supply chain issues in 2021, the Coronavirus pandemic delayed the whales from returning into the bay after spending the winter months in their landside care facility last year.

Graham McGrath, Head of the SEA LIFE TRUST, said: “It was an epic sight to witness the Intermediate Habitat being pulled into the harbour by the island’s tug-boat for the first time. As a world-first project, our teams are carrying out pioneering research which helps us to understand the behaviours of Little Grey and Little White’s transition into the wider bay. Once this halo-like structure has been fully installed it will play a vital role in the long-term success of the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary and other sanctuaries like it in the future.”

He added: “Thanks to the hard work of our expert care team, the local community and many Icelandic suppliers, Little Grey and Little White will be able to return to the natural surroundings of Klettsvik Bay.”

The habitat was also funded with a generous donation from The QATO Foundation which awarded the Beluga Whale Sanctuary with a generous financial grant – making the foundation a Founding Partner. The QATO Foundation is a philanthropic giving foundation based in Denmark.

The Foundation supports projects that ensure and promote the welfare of animals – especially those living closely together with people. The Foundation contributes towards long-term and long-lasting projects and The Beluga Whale Sanctuary has been awarded the grant over the period of three years.

The Beluga Whale Sanctuary, operated by charity the SEA LIFE Trust, is the first of its kind. It was created in partnership with Merlin Entertainments and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) with additional support from the QATO Foundation from 2021.

The SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary is one of the biggest developments in captive whale and dolphin care and protection in decades and the first of its kind to be created for cetaceans.

For more information about the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary or to make a donation, visit