Beluga whales evacuated from Ukraine to Spain


Having survived close bombings, 2 beluga whales have made a perilous trek from Kharkiv, Ukraine, to Valencia, Spain, as part of a rescue mission

(Photo courtesy of Georgia Aquarium)

A beluga whales safely arrives to Valencia, Spain. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Aquarium)

After having lived in the turmoil of war in Ukraine for months, 2 beluga whales, Plombir and Miranda, have been rescued from NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkiv, Ukraine. With Kharkiv under a growing threat from artillery fire, Plombir and Miranda were only a few hundred meters away when bombs fell dangerously close to their aquarium.1 From June 17 to June 18, 2024, marine mammal specialists undertook a high-risk collaborative operation to rescue the 15-year-old male (Plombir) and 14-year-old female (Miranda). The pair was evacuated to the oceanarium Oceanogràfic in Valencia, Spain.

"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," Keith Yip, animal care specialist at SeaWorld, said in a news release by Georgia Aquarium.1 "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."

Logistics of the operation

According to the president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Dan Ashe, the operation was “likely the most complex marine mammal rescue ever undertaken.”1 He commended AZA members, Oceanogràfic, Georgia Aquarium, and SeaWorld for assembling “the world’s most elite team of marine mammal experts” to collaborate with the Ukrainian aquarium on the high-stakes mission.

Timestamp of Plombir and Miranda's journey2:

  • June 17, 2024: 8 PM — Plombir and Miranda depart from NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkiv, Ukraine
  • June 18, 2024: 8:30AM — Plombir and Miranda arrive at Odessa, Ukraine.
  • June 18, 2024: 10 AM — Plombir and Miranda depart from Odessa, Ukraine.
  • June 18, 2024: 11:30 PM — Plombir and Miranda arrive at Valencia Airport in Spain.
  • June 19, 2024: 2 AM — Plombir and Miranda arrive at Oceanogràfic in Valencia, Spain.

The rescue mission posed numerous obstacles, including a perilous 12-hour drive from Kharkiv to Odesa—located in southern Ukraine. At Odesa, Ukrainian caregivers met with an international team from Oceanogràfic, Georgia Aquarium, and SeaWorld, who conducted immediate health assessments before continuing their journey to the Moldova-Ukraine border.1

In Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, a chartered 6-seater plane prepared to transport the rescue team to Valencia. Upon their arrival at Valencia, Raúl Mérida, the general director of natural and animal environment of Valencia, met with the rescue team at the airport. After the arduous journey across the war zone, the belugas arrived at their sanctuary in fragile health on the evening of June 18, 2024.1

Since the war’s onset in 2022, the NEMO Dolphinarium has been evacuating animals. However, relocating belugas is an exceptionally complex logistical endeavor because of their size and specific needs.1

According to the release, the operation took months of preparation and the involvement of international experts. "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," Dennis Christen, senior director of animal wellbeing and behavior at Georgia Aquarium, said in the release.1

“Slim” chances of survival in Kharkiv

(Photo courtesy of Georgia Aquarium)

Marine mammal specialists from Oceanografic de Valencia, Georgia Aquarium, and SeaWorld warmly welcome one of the rescued beluga whales. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Aquarium)

Daniel Garcia-Párraga, director of zoological operations at Oceanogràfic elaborated in the release on the effects and implications of the war in Ukraine for animals like Plombir and Miranda.1 "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," he explained.

"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 added.

Plombir and Miranda are currently receiving dedicated support from a team of medical, nutritional, and behavioral specialists at Oceanogràfic to aid in their recovery. For the initial few weeks, 2 Ukrainian caregivers are staying with them to assist in their transition and care.1

"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.1 "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."


  1. Two beluga whales rescued from Ukrainian aquarium evacuated to Spain. News release. Georgia Aquarium. June 19, 2024. Accessed June 20, 2024.
  2. Morwood M, Rawling C. Beluga whales take gruelling journey across war-ravaged Ukraine to reach new home in Spain. ABC News. June 20, 2024. Accessed June 20, 2024.
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