A Dorset charity that runs a first-of-its-kind sanctuary for beluga whales has secured a seven-figure finance package from HSBC UK to continue its vital work, despite the challenges posed by Covid-19.

SEA LIFE Trust, which works globally to protect the world’s oceans and marine life, has used the funding to support cash flow and allow it to continue running its seal and beluga whale sanctuaries whilst having to close its doors to visitors during the pandemic.

The charity operates two sanctuaries: a seal sanctuary in Cornwall which rescues and rehabilitates sick seal pups that have been found in the ocean and another in Klettsvik Bay, Iceland for rescued beluga whales that have been performing in water parks and aquariums their whole life. The Trust provides a wild space for the rescued whales, netted off from the open sea in the Westman Islands.

The funding was secured as part of the government-backed Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).

Andy Bool, Head of SEA LIFE Trust, said: “As a charity, we mainly rely on funding from individuals and organisations who wish to donate, but a significant part of our income also comes from welcoming visitors to our beautiful sanctuaries. Sadly, when Covid took hold, we had to close our sanctuaries to visitors for a few months, which meant our income was significantly impacted. HSBC UK’s support, led by our relationship director Graham Smith has been instrumental in helping us prepare for the future, as well as allowing us to carry on the vital work we are doing for these animals.”

Leo Jones, Head of Charities, HSBC UK, said: “SEA LIFE Trust carries out hugely important preservation work and like other organisations has had to overcome the challenges posed by a very unpredictable year. I am proud that HSBC UK was able to provide support at a time where the pandemic continues to have a significant impact on visitor numbers and donations.”

Mike Miller, South Region Head of Leveraged Corporates at HSBC UK, added:

“We’re delighted we’ve been able to help SEA LIFE Trust continue operating during the pandemic, which has been a huge blow to many charities which rely on visitors and donations to keep them going. The work it does to support and protect our oceans and marine life is absolutely critical to the future of our planet so it was important to us that we could give something back. We’re confident that the Trust will continue making a huge difference despite these incredibly challenging times.”

The beluga whale sanctuary is home to Little White and Little Grey, two well-known whales that were captured when they were calves, taken to a Russian research centre and then moved to a Chinese aquarium where they spent a decade as entertainment for visitors. The sanctuary in the Westman Islands was created to ensure they could live in a natural habitat.

The story of Little White and Little Grey’s journey, which began in spring 2019 as they travelled 6,000 miles from the aquarium in China, has been told in a two-part documentary on ITV and features comedian and animal lover, John Bishop.

To find out more about what SEA LIFE Trust does, visit the website: https://www.sealifetrust.org/en/.