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Published on June 21, 2024
International Rescue Effort Leads to Successful Relocation of Beluga Whales from Ukraine to SpainSource: Unsplash/ Yuan Yue

In a daring international effort, marine specialists from the Georgia Aquarium joined forces with teams across the globe to rescue two beluga whales from the conflict-ridden lands of Ukraine. The belugas, who are now safely housed in Spain's Oceanografic Valencia, embarked on an odyssey that is being hailed as the most complex marine mammal rescue operation to date.

As reported by WABE, the operation unfolded over two days, beginning on Monday when Ukrainian caregivers from NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkiv managed to carefully drive the marine mammals 12 hours to Odesa. Here, specialists were ready and waiting to seamlessly take over and provide round-the-clock care for the whales on their lengthy journey to their new Spanish haven.

Dennis Christen, senior director of animal wellbeing and behavior at Georgia Aquarium, expressed his emotions in a statement obtained by WABE: "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." The belugas, 15-year-old male Plombir and 14-year-old female Miranda, faced uncertain futures had they remained in Kharkiv, with their survival chances described as "very slim" by Dr. Daniel Garcia-Párraga, director of zoological operations at Oceanografic.

Praise for the extraordinary rescue mission was echoed by Dan Ashe, President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), who said, "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 two belugas are now under the expert care of medical, nutritional, and behavioral specialists at Oceanografic. To smoothly aid in the transition, two Ukrainian caregivers will ensure the whales are comfortable and acclimate well for the upcoming weeks.

The sentiment of loss but necessitated action was captured by Christen’s words: "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." While the whales have left Ukrainian waters, the sanctuary found amidst the chaos underlines the enduring spirit of international collaboration and the lengths we go to safeguard the voiceless among us.