2 Beluga Whales Moved from Ukraine to Spain in 'High-Risk, Complex' Rescue Operation amid War

A rescue team transported two beluga whales from Ukraine to Spain amid the ongoing war

Published Time: 19.06.2024 - 21:31:13 Modified Time: 19.06.2024 - 21:31:13

A rescue team transported two beluga whales from Ukraine to Spain amid the ongoing war.

On June 17 and 18, a multi-national team of marine mammal experts from Oceanogràfic de Valencia, Georgia Aquarium, and SeaWorld assisted Ukraine's NEMO Dolphinarium in rescuing the belugas—a 15-year-old male named Plombir and a 14-year-old female named Miranda—from the war-ravaged city of Kharkiv, per a news release obtained by PEOPLE.

Following a "grueling journey across the war zone," the animals arrived in Valencia, Spain, in "delicate health" on the evening of June 18.

"The high-risk, complex rescue operation presented numerous challenges and required multi-national collaboration," the release stated.

Oceanogràfic Valencia is the largest aquarium in Europe and the closest marine conservation center to Ukraine. Ahead of the rescue mission, bombs were dropped within a few hundred meters of the aquarium. Kharkiv is "facing increasing threat from artillery fire," per the release.

The rescue required months of planning due to the animals' size and specific needs. Seals, sea lions, and dolphins evacuated the NEMO Dolphinarium in earlier rescue missions launched since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.

"Their evacuation included a dangerous 12-hour drive from Kharkiv to Odesa. From there, the Ukrainian caregivers met the international team from Oceanogràfic, Georgia Aquarium, and SeaWorld, who quickly conducted health checks and continued onward to the Moldova border where the European Anti-Fraud Office, part of the European Commission, served a crucial role in speeding up the border crossing," the release stated. 

After the drive, a six-seater chartered plane met the rescue team in Chisinau. It flew them to Valencia, where the general director of the Natural and Animal Environment of Valencia, Raúl Mérida, met them at the airport.

"This courageous rescue constitutes a historic milestone worldwide in terms of animal protection. It is an honor that the Oceanogràfic has rescued these two belugas from the horror of the war in Ukraine," Carlos Mazón, president of the Valencia region Generalitat Valenciana, said.

"They have experienced -

a difficult situation in recent months, and the experts at Oceanogràfic will be working intensely to help them recover," Mazón added.

Dr. Daniel Garcia-Párraga, director of zoological operations at Oceanogràfic, shared, "The war has caused food, energy, and medicine shortages, reducing access to other basic necessities for animal care as well as technical supplies necessary for the logistics of such a sensitive rescue."  

"The belugas have a suboptimal body condition to undertake this type of trip, but if they had continued in Kharkiv, their chances of survival would have been very slim," Garcia-Párraga continued.  

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Dennis Christen, senior director of animal well-being and behavior at Georgia Aquarium, shared, "The complexities of this evacuation were immense, and we have been working for weeks to prepare for it. I'm humbled to have been trusted to provide the belugas care and protection during their long journey to their new home."

"My heart is with the Ukrainian caregivers and the people of Kharkiv who had to say goodbye to Miranda and Plombir. It's not an easy thing to do, but it was best for them. I'm proud to have played a role in helping them," Christen added.

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The belugas are now being "provided with a specialized team of medical, nutritional and behavioral experts at Oceanogràfic to assist in recovery from the traumas they have endured," the release confirmed, adding that two Ukrainian caregivers would be staying with them for the first couple of weeks to help with the transition.

"The belugas are being cared for in separate areas that are not accessible or viewable by the public while they undergo recovery and acclimation," Garcia-Párraga said.

"We will be providing updates on their health and well-being as things evolve. We are extremely grateful to everyone who assisted in this rescue," he added.

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