Officials who had planned to put down an injured and abandoned baby whale had to postpone the operation because they could not find it in the dark waters off north Sydney.
Geoff Ross, a wildlife management officer, said the humpback whale was probably frightened and confused by the searchlights and the sound of the boats so they decided it would be easier to find the whale in the daylight.
That is, if it survives the night. "The calf was in much worse condition than we originally thought and the injuries were a lot worse as well, probably from a shark attack," said Sally Barnes, deputy director general of the New South Wales Department of Environment and Climate Change. "We have taken the hard decision to put it down, unfortunately."
Wildlife officials and veterinarians plan to sedate the animal, tow it ashore, and inject a dose of fatal drugs.
The plight of the whale, which Australians have nicknamed "Colin," has dominated news coverage here since it was first sighted on Sunday and began trying to suckle from boats it apparently mistook for its mother. "Our hearts are breaking with what's happening with baby Colin," said the New South Wales Premier, Morris Iemma, said. "It's looking bleak, but every effort is being made."
One effort came from an Aboriginal whale whisperer, Bunna Lawrie, who visited the calf yesterday. Adorned with feathers on his head and white paint markings on his face, Mr Lawrie reached into the water to stroke Colin while singing a humming, tongue-rolling tune. But after a few minutes the whale swam away to nuzzle a nearby yacht. "He's missing the big fellas," said Mr Lawrie, whose visit was broadcast on television.
The decision to put the whale down prompted a strong protest from a rescue group that designed a feeding apparatus intended to provide milk to the ailing calf. "You said you'd give us a 24-hour stay of execution," Brett Devine, a member of Devine Marine Group, shouted as environmental officials tried to calm him.
A Sydney couple stood on the dock watching the search. Agata Hardy, 36, burst into tears when she heard Colin would be euthanised. "If he was a human who was starving, would we do this?" she asked. "We would feed him."