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Two beluga whales evacuated from Ukraine arrive in Spain

The two beluga whales made it safely to their new home in Valencia, Spain. (Jorge Gil / Europa Press) The two beluga whales made it safely to their new home in Valencia, Spain. (Jorge Gil / Europa Press)
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Two beluga whales have been rescued from the besieged city of Kharkiv in Ukraine and taken to an aquarium in Valencia, Spain, in a complex operation.

A multinational team involving marine mammal care experts from Oceanogràfic de Valencia, the largest oceanarium in Europe; Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta; and SeaWorld were involved in the high-risk journey.

The pair of belugas – a 15-year-old male named Plombir and a 14-year-old female called Miranda – arrived in “delicate health” Tuesday evening after a “grueling journey,” according to Georgia Aquarium.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city, which sits near its border with Russia, has seen a spate of Russian attacks in recent weeks.

Last month, a Russian strike on a megastore in the city killed 18 people, including a 12-year-old girl, regional officials said.

“The city is facing increasing threat from artillery fire, which has intensified in recent weeks, with bombs dropping within a few hundred meters of the aquarium,” Georgia Aquarium said in a press release.

The journey began Monday when the team first removed the whales from Ukraine’s NEMO Dolphinarium and drove them 12 hours from Kharkiv to Odesa.

From there, they traveled to the border with Moldova, where EU officials arranged to speed up border control.

A six-seater chartered plane awaited the rescue team in the Moldovan capital Chisinau to fly to Valencia, where they arrived Tuesday.

“The belugas’ health and safety were our top priority, and these were challenging conditions, including rough roads, rising temperatures and the inherent risks of being in an active war zone,” said Keith Yip, an animal care specialist at SeaWorld.

The pair are receiving specialized care for trauma from a team of “medical, nutritional, and behavioral experts” and two Ukrainian caregivers are staying with them for the first couple weeks to help with their transition and care.

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