Hopes are fading for a baby whale, abandoned by its mother and starved of vital milk, with experts saying it might have to be put down unless it could be tempted out to sea and paired with another pod.
The humpback, first discovered on Sunday in waters north of Sydney, has been trying to suckle yachts in the area, mistaking them for its mother. One sailor, Peter Lewis, described the spectacle of the whale nuzzling the side of his boat as "a very, very sad sight."
"It did it for about an hour, going from side to side on the boat and at times blowing air under the boat," he told Australian radio. "And it just seemed to give a sigh out at one stage as if, you know, 'this isn’t working'."
Nicknamed 'Colin' by the Australian media, the whale calf has become the subject of national concern, with even Prime Minister Kevin Rudd joining the debate about how to save it.
Rescuers had attempted to use the whale's attachment to a yacht in Pittwater, north of Sydney, on Monday, as a tactic to encourage it out of the bay so it could find deeper water or join a whale pod. But the persistent calf, believed to be between one and two months old, was found the very next day near the beach again when it attached itself to another vessel.
International experts such as Sea World in San Diego - the only team ever to successfully feed and wean a stranded whale calf - said there was nothing they could do to save the whale, predicting it would only be a matter of days before it died of starvation.
And Australian wildlife authorities said the baby whale would probably have to be put out of its misery. "I guess it's fair to say that we're getting close to that position at the moment," said John Dengate, a spokesman for the Environment Department.
One suggestion to save the baby whale have included feeding the calf from an artificial teat, using formula milk designed for humans. However that plan has been ousted, because the whale would need as much as 230 litres of milk a day for up to a year.