SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary Travel Guide
The SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary, also known as the Saeheimar Aquarium, is the world's first open-water Beluga whale sanctuary and is home to the Puffin Rescue Centre.
The sanctuary is on Heimaey island in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, and travelers can visit the center as part of a sightseeing tour of the Westman Islands. Check out this private 10-hour trip to Vestmannaeyjar from Reykjavik if you want to see the sanctuary.
Private tours are customizable, enabling travelers to request a stop at the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary.
The sanctuary provides a more natural home for Beluga whales previously housed in facilities such as waterparks. Visitors can also see the Puffin Rescue Centre, set up to take in and care for sick and injured puffins on Vestmannaeyjar.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, By Dennis Jarvis No edits made
About the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary
The SEA LIFE Trust is a global charity for the health and protection of oceans and marine life. Through worldwide projects, they campaign for plastic-free oceans and strive to eliminate the over-exploitation of marine life. The SEA LIFE Trust developed the Beluga Whale Sanctuary in Iceland and the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in the United Kingdom.
The SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary and Puffin Rescue Centre have a natural sea sanctuary, a landside care facility, and a visitor center. The sanctuary is in Klettsvik Bay, a picturesque natural sea inlet measuring 344,445 square feet (32,000 square meters) and 30 feet (10 meters) deep. It provides an ideal space for the Belugas to swim, dive, and explore.
The enclosed, protected bay features a care pool and pontoon to allow the expert care team access to the whales. A landside care facility offers a place for whales to quarantine and acclimate and provides a backup location when needed.
Introducing Little Grey and Little White
The first two whales to call the sanctuary home, Little Grey and Little White, arrived in June 2019. From Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, they traveled 6,000 miles (9656 kilometers) over 30 hours to reach the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary in Klettsvik Bay on Heimaey island.
Experienced global marine transport experts carefully managed the complex operation, from specially designed stretchers and transportation tanks to a care pool and health assessment on arrival. Little Grey and Little White arrived safely, ready to start acclimatizing to their new surroundings.
An on-site animal care team at the sanctuary works closely with welfare and veterinary specialists to look after the whales, ensuring their mental and physical health remains the highest priority. The sanctuary has space for ten whales and hopes to welcome others to join Little Grey and Little White in the future.
Unprecedented challenges at the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary in 2022
The whales were introduced to the sanctuary at the same time, but Little White adapted and acclimatized at a slower pace. As part of the "Little Steps" program, an intermediate habitat was developed to assist with a more gradual introduction to the larger sea sanctuary at Klettsvik Bay.
In August 2022, just hours before the whales were due to return to their sanctuary, disaster hit when the organization's primary diving contractor's boat sunk in Klettsvik Bay. Oil and fuel contamination from the vessel meant that part of the sea sanctuary structure had to be dismantled.
It is unsafe for the whales to return to the bay until the environmental clean-up and repair operation is complete. The team will return Little White and Little Grey to the sanctuary as soon as it's safe. Their return date is estimated at spring 2023, allowing them to acclimate before winter.
Meanwhile, both whales are in excellent health in their temporary landside care facility.
The Puffin Rescue Centre
The Puffling Patrol rescues Vestmannaeyjar puffins in need of extra care and brings them to the center. Residents sometimes bring in puffins and pufflings (baby puffins) for assessment and treatment from the specialist care team. The birds may be released back into the wild if and when they are fit and ready.
The center currently has nine long-term puffin residents, birds they can't release for various reasons. Some have been in captivity too long, others have vision impairments, and one has a leg injury.
Visiting the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary and Puffin Rescue Centre
The SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary and Puffin Rescue Centre rely on visits and donations to care for the whales and puffins. From April to October, you can book a short boat trip from the visitor center in the Vestmannaeyjar harbor to Klettsvik Bay to view the whales from a discreet distance.
Travelers can check out the visitor center year-round. Educational displays share information about Beluga whales and the sanctuary. Plus, visit the Puffin Rescue Centre and the native species aquarium.
Annual passes and virtual visits are available. Check the opening times, which change throughout the year, to ensure the facility is open.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Steve Snodgrass No edits made
Getting to the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary and Puffin Rescue Centre
The ferry from Landeyjahofn on the mainland transports people and vehicles to Heimaey island. You'll find the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary and Puffin Rescue Centre just 382 yards (350 meters) from the Herjolfur ferry terminal.
Attractions Near the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary and Puffin Rescue Centre
Travelers won't run out of exciting places to visit and things to do on Heimaey island. Boat trips are an excellent way to discover the coastal beauty of the Westman Islands. Check out this one-hour tour with a transfer from Heimaey harbor or this exciting two-hour RIB boat excursion.
The island is well-known for its volcanic activity. In 1973, the Eldfell volcanic eruption caused widespread destruction across Heimaey.
This dramatic event was one of Iceland's most significant natural disasters in recent history. Visitors can learn all about it at Eldheimar Museum, 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers) from the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary and Puffin Rescue Centre.
Take an exhilarating one-hour ATV volcano tour to discover the landscapes that make this area famous. Or, those who enjoy walking can explore the island's volcanic craters on foot. Walk up and around the Eldfell crater or take a short hike up Helgafell volcano, Eldfell's neighbor.
Herjolfsdalur is a scenic area at the island's north end, perfect for hiking and camping. The puffin lookout on the island's south end is a fantastic place to spot wildlife. You can marvel at the puffins during summer and may also see whales, seals, and various birds here.