INTO THE DEEP After eight years of planning, the Sea Life Trust, the adopted marine charity of Merlin Entertainments, opened the world’s first cetacean sanctuary in Iceland recently. Sea Life’s James Burleigh talks to Kath Hudson about the long, and sometimes painful, journey to a joyous ending
ne of Merlin Entertainments’
Many from outside the company became
founding principles is that the
equally invested in the project’s success.
company will not keep any
Comedian, John Bishop, became part of
cetaceans in its attractions for
the team through his role presenting an ITV
entertainment purposes, so
documentary about the project, called John
when two young beluga whales, Little Grey and
Bishop’s Great Whale Rescue, and as a result
Little White, came into the company’s hands
fell in love with these mesmerising animals.
in 2012, Merlin CEO, Nick Varney, charged
The story started nine years ago when Merlin
Sea Life’s chief ambassador, James Burleigh,
acquired Living and Leisure Australia, owner
with the task of creating a home for them
of Shanghai Changfeng Ocean World, which
which was as close to the wild as possible.
ran a beluga whale show. Little Grey and Little
What followed was a mission of epic
White were only six years old at the time and
proportions. It was incredibly costly – the
as they can live to be 40- or 50-years-old,
price will not be revealed or recouped –
much of their life was still ahead of them.
but Burleigh says that everyone at Merlin
Re-release into the wild wasn’t an option, as they
Entertainments, from the top down, was
wouldn’t have the skills to survive, so the challenge
fully behind the campaign, because it
was to find a location which would allow them to be
was the morally right thing to do.
as free as possible and replicate their natural habitat.