Conservation & Research

On June 17 &18, 2024, marine mammal specialists from Georgia Aquarium, Oceanogràfic de Valencia, and SeaWorld assisted the NEMO Dolphinarium in rescuing two beluga whales from the war-torn region of Kharkiv, Ukraine. Dennis Christen, senior director of animal wellbeing and behavior at Georgia Aquarium, recounts the details of this momentous event below:


Recently, a team of experts, including myself, had the unique opportunity to assist in transporting two beluga whales, Plombir and Miranda. Moving beluga whales across international borders is no small feat. It requires precise planning, extensive coordination, and unwavering dedication from a team of professionals. Here’s a detailed account of this extraordinary mission.

Preparing for the Move

The preparation phase for this transport was a mammoth task involving numerous stakeholders and extensive communication. I worked closely with Daniel Garcia, Robert Gojceta, Keith Yip, and several others to ensure every detail was meticulously planned. Our communication spanned countless emails, Zoom calls, and WhatsApp messages.

One of the primary challenges we faced was setting up contact with a logistics company in Moldova to assist with importing transport gear from Spain and supporting our team on the ground. We coordinated meetings with customs agents and airport authorities in Moldova to streamline the process. Using transport plans and equipment lists from our beluga transports at Georgia Aquarium, we ensured all necessary supplies, including ice and potable water, were ready for the journey. This preparation phase was crucial in laying the foundation for a successful move.

Moving Day

Move day was a whirlwind of activity and emotions. It began on Monday with a series of critical meetings at Chisinau airport to align all stakeholders on the transport logistics. The day’s agenda was scheduled down to the hour, including the final setup of transport crates and coordinating a police escort for the transport truck from Kharkiv. 

Our colleague, Olga Shpak, was vital in ensuring timely communications and on-ground updates. Her efforts were invaluable, especially given the communication delays we faced. The transport left Kharkiv in the evening, and we received regular updates through the night as the convoy made its way to Moldova.

Upon arrival at the Moldova-Ukraine border, we encountered several challenges, including unexpected delays at customs and passport control. At the airport, we faced further complications. The plane was parked far from the loading zone, and we had to navigate multiple customs and security checks. Despite these setbacks, our team persevered, successfully loading the belugas onto the cargo plane. 

Meeting the Ukrainian Team

Seeing the animals and meeting the Ukrainian team for the first time was an emotional moment. The Ukrainian veterinary attendants were visibly emotional, reflecting the toll the journey had taken. Despite the language barrier, we communicated our gratitude and ensured they felt supported. The belugas were remarkably calm, a testament to their resilience and the care they received throughout the journey.

The physical demands of the move were immense. The long duration of the transport, coupled with the stress of navigating logistical challenges, tested our endurance. The loading process at the airport was particularly strenuous, involving a lot of physical activity in high-stress conditions. Despite the exhaustion, our team maintained a calm and collected demeanor, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the belugas.

Arrival at Oceanografic

Throughout the move, both belugas remained surprisingly calm. I accompanied Plombir and Miranda at various stages, and their behavior was a reassuring indicator of their wellbeing. The flight to Valencia was smooth, and the low-frequency vibrations of the plane seemed to have a calming effect on the whales.

Arriving at Oceanografic in Valencia was a triumphant moment. The warm welcome from the staff and the successful transfer of Plombir and Miranda to their new home marked the culmination of our efforts. The Oceanografic team’s expertise and enthusiasm were evident as they seamlessly took over the care of the belugas.

Media Frenzy and the Importance of this Story

The media attention surrounding this story highlights the broader significance of our mission. It underscores the resilience of the Ukrainian animal caretakers and the vital role of zoos and aquariums in animal rescue and conservation. Sharing this story brings awareness to the challenges faced by both humans and animals in conflict zones and the incredible efforts made to protect and care for them.

Plombir and Miranda’s journey also emphasizes the importance of international cooperation in animal welfare. It demonstrates how various organizations and individuals can come together to overcome significant challenges and achieve a common goal. This mission has captivated the public’s imagination, offering a glimpse into the often unseen world of animal rescue and the dedication of those involved.

Conclusion: Collaboration is Borderless

This mission was not just about transporting belugas; it was a testament to the power of collaboration. Working alongside dedicated professionals like Keith, Daniel, and Robert was a rewarding experience. Daniel’s leadership and Robert’s extensive knowledge were particularly impressive, and the camaraderie we developed during this mission will undoubtedly lead to lifelong friendships.

The successful transport of Plombir and Miranda was a monumental achievement, made possible by the dedication and collaboration of a diverse team of professionals. This mission highlighted the logistical complexities of moving beluga whales across borders and underscored the deep compassion and resilience of all those involved. The collaboration between Oceanogràfic de Valencia, SeaWorld, NEMO Dolphinarium, Shedd Aquarium, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums was instrumental in the meticulous planning and successful execution of this transport. It was an honor to be part of this incredible journey. I look forward to the continued care and wellbeing of Plombir and Miranda in their new home. 


For the official press release, click here.


Georgia Aquarium is a leading 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Atlanta, Ga. that is Humane Certified by American Humane and accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Georgia Aquarium is committed to working on behalf of all marine life through education, preservation, exceptional animal care, and research across the globe. Georgia Aquarium continues its mission each day to inspire, educate, and entertain its millions of guests about the aquatic biodiversity throughout the world through its engaging exhibits and tens of thousands of animals across its eight major galleries.

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