Beluga whales make daring escape from war in Ukraine to settle in a new home

Valencia, Spain - In one of the most complex transportations of a marine animal in human history, two beluga whales escaped the besieged city of Kharkiv in Ukraine and successfully made it to Spain.

Amid the destruction of Kharkiv, two unlikely whales managed to escape.
Amid the destruction of Kharkiv, two unlikely whales managed to escape.  © Collage: IMAGO/

After Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, life was ripped apart for everyone – not just the country's besieged human citizens.

For the pair of beluga whales who had inhabited the NEMO aquarium in Kharkiv, it was a miracle they managed to escape harm for so long. But now, Russia's escalating battering of the city meant it was time to move.

Plombir and Miranda, 15 and 14 years old, respectively, need very cold water to survive, making the idea of moving them out of Ukraine amid the ongoing warfare a logistical nightmare.

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Things were getting desperate, and eventually there was no choice but to make the attempt.

Daniel Garcia-Párraga, director of zoological operations at Oceanográfic de Valencia, where the two belugas now reside, said: "If they had continued in Kharkiv, their chances of survival would have been very slim."

After bombs exploded extremely close to the whales' Kharkiv home, the decision to transport them was set in stone. Their remarkable journey began in earnest.

Two belugas make an unlikely journey out of war-torn Ukraine

The devastation of Kharkiv's power grid made it increasingly hard to keep the belugas' water cold enough for them to stay alive.

On June 17, a truck arrived at the NEMO aquarium, equipped with what was, in effect, an overly sized refrigerated bathtub in its trailer.

Carers in the back of the truck provided pats as well as the more than 132 pounds of food a beluga eats per day as the vehicle slowly made its way southwest and into Moldova.

In Moldova's capital Chișinău, the belugas were transported off the truck and into the back of a massive airplane, which flew directly to Valencia in Spain. From there, it was into another truck and off to their new home.

A press release, issued by the communications cabinet of the President of the Generalitat in Valencia Carlos Mazón and translated into English, quoted Mazón as having said that "this rescue, which was carried out in a situation of extreme danger, constitutes a historical landmark on a global scale in terms of animal protection."

After the two whales made their way to Valencia, their new home Oceanográfic de Valencia took to X to assure people: "Both animals are in the process of adaptation, with great attention and assistance from the #Oceanogràfic team of specialists."

The two beluga whales arrived in Valencia and settled in late on June 18, having traveled thousands of miles through land and sky to reach their destination.

Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO/

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