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War-Torn Belugas from Ukraine Begin New Life in Valencia’s Oceanogràfic

The marine mammal specialists from the Oceanogràfic of Valencia, along with teams from Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld, have successfully rescued two belugas from the NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

The operation took place amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, where Kharkiv endures frequent shelling close to the aquarium.

The rescued belugas, a 15-year-old male named Plombir and a 14-year-old female named Miranda, arrived in Valencia on the night of June 18. They were in delicate health after a long journey from the conflict zone.

Rescued belugas from war-torn Ukraine lifted to place Valencia’s Oceanogràfic

The evacuation began with a 12-hour road trip from Kharkiv to Odessa. In Odessa, Ukrainian keepers met with the international teams for the first veterinary checks. They then traveled to the Moldova border, with the help of the European Union Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) speeding up the crossing.

A specially chartered plane transported the belugas to Valencia, accompanied by six international animal care experts. Upon arrival, the rescue team and the belugas were welcomed by Raúl Mérida, the general director of Natural and Animal Environment of the Generalitat Valenciana.

The belugas were then transferred to the Oceanogràfic in large land vehicles. Carlos Mazón, president of the Generalitat Valenciana, called the rescue a historic milestone in animal protection and highlighted the dedication of Oceanogràfic’s professionals.

The Oceanogràfic, the largest aquarium in Europe, is the only facility on the continent with belugas. It is also the closest marine conservation center to Ukraine, accredited by top international animal welfare organizations.

Dr. Daniel García-Párraga, director of Zoological Operations at Oceanogràfic, explained that the war in Kharkiv caused shortages of food, energy, and medicine, reducing NEMO aquarium’s ability to care for its animals. He emphasized that the belugas had a suboptimal body condition for the journey but would have had slim chances of survival if they stayed in Kharkiv.

Since the conflict began in 2022, NEMO Dolphinarium has evacuated several animals, including seals, sea lions, and dolphins. However, moving the belugas was more complex due to their size and specific needs, requiring months of preparation and international expertise.

Dan Ashe, president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), praised the collaboration of marine mammal experts for completing this challenging rescue.

Dennis Christen from Georgia Aquarium expressed pride in helping the belugas despite the immense complications and dangers.

Keith Yip, an animal care specialist from SeaWorld, noted that the health and safety of the belugas were the team’s priorities during the evacuation. He also praised the courage of the Ukrainian keepers.

Two Ukrainian caregivers will stay with the belugas during their initial weeks at Oceanogràfic to help them adapt. A team of veterinarians, nutritionists, and animal behavior experts will assist in their recovery.

The belugas will initially remain in non-public areas until they are fully recovered. Eventually, they will join Kylu and Yulka, the resident belugas at Oceanogràfic. Dr. García-Párraga expressed gratitude to everyone involved in the rescue.

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