It Was 'Likely the Most Complex Marine Mammal Rescue Ever'

2 beluga whales moved from war-torn eastern Ukraine to new home in Spain
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 20, 2024 1:14 PM CDT
It Was 'Likely the Most Complex Marine Mammal Rescue Ever'
Beluga whales swims in the Georgia Aquarium's tank in Atlanta on April 11, 2012.   (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

War has costs for whales, too. Indeed, two beluga whales held at an aquarium in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, were considered unlikely to survive Russia's bombing of the region—until animal lovers thousands of miles away found a way to help them. The two whales—a 15-year-old male named Plombir and a 15-year-old female dubbed Miranda—were whisked from Kharkiv's NEMO Dolphinarium to Europe's largest aquarium, Oceanogràfic in Valencia, Spain, during a 36-hour operation this week, the New York Times reports. Dan Ashe, head of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said it took "the world's most elite team of marine mammal experts" to pull off what was "likely the most complex marine mammal rescue ever undertaken."

The operation, which took months to plan, covered 36 hours and 1,900 miles, per the Times. A Ukrainian team first moved the whales from Kharkiv to Odesa in transport crates that had to be drained of water when they needed to be lifted, an official says. After an inspection, the animals were then trucked across the border to Moldova, where they were moved to a cargo plane "equipped with an interior crane," per the Times. The whales reportedly touched down in Valencia early Wednesday and were at their new home by 6:30am. "The experts at Oceanogràfic will be working intensely to help them recover," Carlos Mazón, president of the Valencian government, said in a statement, per IFL Science.

If the whales had stayed put, "their chances of survival would have been very slim," said Daniel Garcia-Párraga, Oceanogràfic's director of zoological operations. Recent aerial bombardments were just one issue. With Kharkiv's power grid devastated, the aquarium was forced to rely on generator power, which made it difficult to maintain the cold water temperatures belugas need to survive. On top of that, the whales' daily food intake, typically 132 pounds of fish, was recently cut in half due to shortages. Whale Sanctuary Project President Lori Marino notes cetaceans shouldn't be kept in captivity at all, per the Times. "But if they are, we have a moral duty to keep them out of harm's way." (More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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