Beluga whale pair move from Ukraine’s war-torn Kharkiv to Spain’s Valencia


MADRID (Reuters) – Marine biologists have moved a pair of beluga whales from the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv – the target of daily shelling by Russian forces – to the eastern Spanish city of Valencia, in what they described as a long and risky international rescue operation.

The animals, 15-year-old male Plombir and 14-year-old female Miranda, arrived at Valencia’s famed Oceanografic complex late on Monday in a fragile state of health, according to a statement by the Spanish oceanarium.

They had endured a lengthy journey in fragile wooden crates that started with a 12-hour road trip from Kharkiv to the port city of Odesa. There, the belugas’ Ukrainian keepers met with a team of veterinarians from the Oceanografic as well as the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and SeaWorld theme parks.

After a quick check-up, they resumed the trip to the border with Moldova, which they crossed with the aid of the European Union’s Anti-Fraud Office. From Chisinau they boarded a five-hour flight to Valencia.

The regional leader of Valencia, Carlos Mazon, said the operation was “a historic feat of animal protection on a global level”.

The Oceanografic’s director of zoological operations, Daniel Garcia-Parraga, said that the whales’ condition had been “suboptimal to undertake this kind of journey, but if they had continued in Kharkiv, their chances of survival would have been very slim”.

Kharkiv’s NEMO dolphinarium was just 800 metres (2,600 feet) away from a site that was frequently shelled and the shockwaves caused severe stress on animals with such sensitive hearing.

But, Garcia-Parraga said on Wednesday, the belugas were in much better shape than vets had initially expected and were adapting well to their new home.

Plombir was already eating – which in that species is unusual right after transportation – but Miranda had yet to try her first bite, he added.

The Oceanografic is the largest aquarium in Europe and the only one that houses beluga whales.

The white-hued mammals live in chilly waters in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. Males can reach a length of up to 5.5 metres and weigh up to 1.6 tons.

(Reporting by David Latona and Catherine Macdonald; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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