Two beluga whales successfully rescued from aquarium in Ukraine

Valencia Spain – Specialists in marine mammals from the Oceanogràfic of Valencia, in the east of Spainand the American aquariums of Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld, have carried out a risky international operation to successfully rescue two belugas from the NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkov, in Ukraineand transfer them to the Valencian aquarium.

War-devastated Kharkiv endures frequent shelling less than a kilometer away from the NEMO aquarium and this “very complex” and “high risk” rescue operation, which has required several months of preparation, has involved numerous challenges and has required international cooperation.

The animals, a 15-year-old male named Plombir and a 14-year-old female named Miranda, arrived at the Oceanogràfic in Valencia during the night of June 18 in delicate health conditions after a long journey from the conflict zone, according to the Valencian aquarium in a statement.

The evacuation of the belugas began with a 12-hour road trip from Kharkiv to Odessa, where the Ukrainian keepers met with the teams from Oceanogràfic, Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld, who carried out the first veterinary checks. After the check, they resumed the trip to the border with Moldova.

The collaboration of the European Union Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) was crucial to speed up the border crossing and reduce the arrival time at Chisinau airport in Moldova.

A plane, specially chartered for the belugas and in which six international experts in animal care traveled, has successfully completed its transfer to Valencia after a five-hour flight.

Upon arrival, the general director of Natural and Animal Environment of the Generalitat Valenciana, Raúl Mérida, received the rescue team and the belugas were quickly transferred to the Oceanogràfic in two large land vehicles.

The president of the Generalitat Valenciana, Carlos Mazón, has highlighted that this rescue, which has been carried out in a situation of extreme danger, “constitutes a historical milestone worldwide in terms of animal protection.”

Mazón has highlighted that it is “an honor” that the Oceanogràfic has two new belugas that have been “rescued from the horror of the war in Ukraine and have experienced a difficult situation in recent months, and that the great professionals that the Oceanogràfic has are going to work intensely so that they recover.”

The Oceanogràfic 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 in Kharkiv has caused shortages of food, energy and medicine and, with this, the NEMO aquarium has seen its ability to guarantee maximum care for its animals. “This shortage of technical supplies has also complicated the logistics of the rescue.”comments Daniel García-Párragadirector of Zoological Operations at the Oceanogràfic of Valencia.

“The belugas had a suboptimal body condition to undertake this type of journey, but if they had continued in Kharkiv, their chances of survival would have been very slim,” says García-Párraga.

Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine in 2022, the NEMO Dolphinarium has evacuated several of its animals, including seals, sea lions and dolphins, although moving the belugas was a “much more complex” logistical operation due to their size and specific technical needs. .

“I applaud AZA members, Oceanogràfic, Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld for bringing together the best team of marine mammal experts in the world to work with the Ukrainian aquarium on what is possibly the most complex rescue ever undertaken.”says Dan Ashe, president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

The complications “have been immense, we have worked tirelessly to identify and minimize the risks and protect the belugas throughout the journey to Valencia.” adds Dennis Christen, senior director of animal welfare and behavior at Georgia Aquarium.

“The Ukrainian keepers have shown great courage, and the entire team has gone above and beyond to ensure the comfort and safety of the belugas during their evacuation to Valencia,” says Keith Yip, SeaWorld animal care specialist.

The belugas will initially remain in areas that are not accessible or visible to the public and when they are fully recovered and adapted they will join Kylu and Yulka, the resident belugas of the Oceanogràfic of Valencia.