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Two beluga whales rescued from Ukrainian aquarium evacuated to Spain

Oceanogràfic de Valencia, Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld collaborate with Ukraine’s NEMO Dolphinarium on heroic evacuation from Kharkiv.

Marine mammal care specialists from Oceanogràfic de Valencia, Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld assisted the NEMO Dolphinarium in Ukraine on June 17-18 with a heroic rescue of two beluga whales from the war-ravaged region of Kharkiv. The city is facing increasing threat from artillery fire, which has intensified in recent weeks, with bombs dropping within a few hundred meters of the aquarium. 

The high-risk, complex rescue operation presented numerous challenges and required multi-national collaboration. The belugas, a 15-year-old male named Plombir and a 14-year-old female named Miranda, arrived in Valencia in delicate health on the evening of June 18, following a grueling journey across the war zone. 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 Moldova border where the European Anti-Fraud Office, part of the European Commission, served a crucial role in speeding up the border crossing. A six-seater chartered plane awaited the rescue team in Chisinau to fly onward to Valencia where the General Director of Natural and Animal Environment of Valencia, Raúl Mérida, met the rescue team at the Valencia airport.

© Oceanogràfic

The president of the Valencia region Generalitat Valenciana, Carlos Mazón, said, “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. They have experienced a difficult situation in recent months, and the experts at Oceanogràfic will be working intensely to help them recover.”

Oceanogràfic Valencia is the largest aquarium in Europe and the only one on the continent that has belugas in its facilities. In addition, it is the closest marine conservation center to Ukraine and is accredited by the most rigorous international organizations in animal welfare.

“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,” said Dr. Daniel Garcia-Párraga, director of zoological operations at Oceanografic.  “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.” 

Since the war began in 2022, the dolphinarium has been bravely evacuating animals, including seals, sea lions and dolphins, as quickly as it could, but moving belugas is an extremely complex logistical operation due to their size and specific needs. It required months of preparations and the participation of international experts.    

“It is yet another example of how accredited aquariums and zoos respond when animals are in danger bringing the specialized expertise and trusted skills developed by caring for wildlife every day,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).  “It’s not just what we do. It’s who we are. I applaud AZA members Oceanografic, Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld, for convening the world’s most elite team of marine mammal experts to work with the Ukrainian aquarium on what is likely the most complex marine mammal rescue ever undertaken.” 

“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,” said Dennis Christen, senior director of animal wellbeing & behavior, Georgia Aquarium.  

“The belugas’ health and safety was our top priority, and these were challenging conditions, including rough roads, rising temperatures and the inherent risks of being in an active war zone,” said Keith Yip, Animal Care Specialist, SeaWorld. “The Ukrainian caregivers were very brave, and the whole team involved did everything possible to provide the belugas comfort and safety during the evacuation to Valencia. I’m proud to have been able to share the specialized expertise needed to support the complex logistics for this collaborative rescue operation.” 

The belugas are being provided with a specialized team of medical, nutritional and behavioral experts at Oceanografic to assist in recovery from the traumas they have endured. Two Ukrainian caregivers are staying with them for the first couple weeks to help with their transition and care.  

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

© Oceanogràfic


Oceanogràfic de València, integrated into the architectural complex of the City of Arts and Sciences, has been the largest aquarium in Europe since it opened its doors in 2003 and has become an outstanding marine conservation center. It is accredited by the world reference body in terms of animal welfare, the American Humane Association (AHA) and is part of the most prestigious international zoological associations, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA), the European Association for Marine Mammals (EAAM) and the Iberian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AIZA).

Through Fundación Oceanogràfic, the Valencia aquarium has promoted research, conservation and dissemination with the aim of raising awareness to change behaviors that benefit the sustainability and ecology of the Planet.

Source: Oceanogràfic


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