Two beluga whales rescued from captivity enjoy their first taste of the sea in nearly a decade

A pair of beluga whales rescued from captivity have had their first taste of the sea in nearly a decade.

The whales, Little White and Little Grey moved from Shanghai marine park to the world's first Beluga whale sanctuary in Iceland, which announced its opening in 2018. They were originally in captivity at a research centre in Russia before being moved to China in 2011.

They'll spend some time in a special care pool before being moved to the wider-sanctuary, which measures 32,000sqm.

"It's been quite the journey for these two," Beluga Whale Sanctuary general manager Audrey Padgett told CNN.

Before making the trip, the whales trained for their journey by building up strength with swimming and exercises.

The Sea Life Trust team move Beluga Whale Little Gray from a tugboat during transfer to the bayside care pool where they will be acclimatised to the natural environment of their new home at the open water sanctuary in Klettsvik Bay in Iceland. The two Beluga whales, named Little Grey and Little White, are being moved to the world's first open-water whale sanctuary after travelling from an aquarium in China 6,000 miles away in June 2019. (Photo by Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)
Photo credit: PA via Getty

The sanctuary hopes Little White and Little Grey's experience will raise awareness to improve welfare for other animals

"It's a new chapter for belugas around the world," Padgett told CNN.

According to National Geographic, beluga whales are one of the smallest whale species and are listed as near threatened.