Lost baby whale is put down

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The Independent Online

An injured and abandoned baby humpback whale that spent nearly a week bonding with boats off north Sydney was put down after vets said it was too weak to survive.

The plight of the whale calf, nicknamed Colin, had dominated news coverage in Australia since Sunday when it was first sighted and began trying to suckle from boats it apparently mistook for its mother.

National Parks and Wildlife Service spokesman Roger Bell said officials gave the one to two month old calf an anaesthetic in the water before hauling it on to the beach, and administering a lethal drug. The body will be examined at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.

"It went very, very smoothly and professionally. The whale suffered as little as possible," Mr Bell said.

The 14ft-long animal could be seen thrashing underwater as officials tried to sedate it close to the shore. Workers reached out to stroke the struggling creature as they towed it to the beach, where they hoisted the two-ton animal on to a tarpaulin and pulled it into a tent.

But Brett Devine, a marine salvage and rescue worker who had hoped to halt the euthanasia and feed the whale a milk and krill concoction via a tube, cried: "Shame! Shame!"

"It's shameful what we've done here today," he said, watching from his boat.

Maritime police boats patrolled the waters to keep the public and media from approaching.

"It's a very sad day," said Sally Barnes, deputy director-general of the New South Wales Department of Environment and Climate Change. "He is out of his misery."

Steve Coleman of the RSPCA, said the whale needed to be destroyed and that it was done humanely. "It was cruel to keep it alive," he said.

Officials believe the calf was abandoned by its mother, possibly because it was ill. Wildlife officials said it appeared the whale had also been attacked by a shark.

An initial exam of the whale's body suggested it was a female, rather than a male, as first thought, Ms Barnes said.

Meanwhile the parks service was investigating reports of an adult whale carcass being eaten by sharks off the southern state of Victoria, Ms Barnes said. Officials hope to collect a DNA sample to determine if it is the missing mother.

The baby whale had spent days among yachts and other boats off north Sydney, swimming back to the boats each time officials lured it out to open sea in the hope it would attach to a passing pod of humpback whales.

But by yesterday, the calf was riddled with parasites, starving and injured, and had drifted into very shallow waters. It probably would have died naturally later, but officials hoped to spare it any more suffering, Ms Barnes said.

A few people designed feeding mechanisms, many gave advice, and some journeyed to Pittwater Inlet just to watch the lonely calf nuzzling up to boats. Aboriginal whale whisperer Bunna Lawrie had tried to soothe the animal, stroking it while humming a tongue-rolling tune.