Dozens of rescuers watched a whale suspended in a net in the air, in what French officials described as “an unprecedented operation” to save the 13-foot mammal.
After hours of delicate lifting, a crane had pulled the whale out of the Seine river before dawn, in the first phase of a mission to save the beluga trapped in the river northwest of Paris. The next step was moving him back toward the coast in a refrigerated truck.
But despite a massive operation that mobilized 80 people — divers, scientists, police and firefighters — the local prefecture said early Wednesday it was sad to announce the death of the beluga.
After realizing he was too weak to survive, authorities decided to euthanize the suffering animal, they said. It was not clear how the whale, which weighed over 1,700 lbs., had strayed so far from the Arctic waters that make up its natural habitat.
Vets had waited on land to examine the mammal that captivated onlookers after getting stuck for days in France’s northwest. Crowds formed on the banks of the river in Normandy to watch the operation.
On the coast near the English Channel, a command center was monitoring the rescue operation. Rescuers planned to treat the unwell animal before releasing him back into the waters.
But, far from the cold waters his protected species is used to, the cetacean’s health worsened on the truck.
A beluga whale was first spotted in France’s River Seine on Aug. 2, far from the cold Arctic waters it is more suited. (Video: Reuters)
“During the trip, veterinarians noticed a deterioration in his condition, particularly in respiratory functions,” veterinarian Ollivet Courtois said. She said the beluga had spent days in an unsuitable environment, with the river’s temperatures, pollution and boats.
“The operation was launched because it was the last chance. If we had left him, he was doomed to a certain death,” she told a news conference. “So, we tried to save him. Unfortunately, we did not succeed.”
Members of the marine conservation group and rescuers tried earlier this week to feed the whale fish to help it make the return along the river out to the English Channel. They had voiced fears the weakened animal could starve in the waterway.
However, shortly after the crane hoisted him out of the Seine, Sea Shepherd France said the male beluga did not have infectious diseases but was not able to digest food for reasons that were unclear.
Sea Shepherd thanked local authorities for attempting the tricky operation.
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce that the beluga did not survive the transfer, which was risky but indispensable to give a chance to an animal that was otherwise condemned,” it said.
Sightings of belugas in rivers are rare — but in 2018 a whale nicknamed Benny in Britain’s River Thames sparked a similar rescue mission.
Other Arctic animals have also been spotted in Europe in recent years, according to the Natural History Museum, including a walrus nicknamed Wally.
“While it’s too soon to say if the increase in Arctic wildlife in Europe’s waters is part of a growing trend, an increase in melting ice, the movement of prey and stormy weather have all been linked to changes in the distribution of these animals,” the museum said.
Rick Noack contributed to this report.
Source : Google News