Rescuers grieve as Moby dies on sands at Airth

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The Independent Online
Easter Monday is the busiest day of the year for the Deep Sea World aquarium in Fife, Scotland and this year it was also one of the saddest.

The staff at the aquarium have battled to save Moby, a 40ft sperm whale from beaching itself for the past two weeks, but yesterday lost the war. Moby, who was first spotted in the Firth of Forth 13 days ago, died after becoming beached on mudflats at Airth in the estuary.

Rescuers had tried to redirect Moby eastwards, out of the estuary, but time and again the whale returned to swim inland. Then finally, at midday yesterday, Moby died one hour after becoming trapped in shallow water as the tide went out.

Alex Kilgour, a spokesman for Deep Sea World aquarium, which was co-ordinating the rescue attempts, said: "Moby died very quickly. We were dreading a long, drawn-out death that could have gone on for six to 12 hours, but he died within an hour, which was a blessing in disguise.

"We are all extremely sad at Deep Sea World. We tried our utmost as a group of human beings to help Moby, but at the end of the day it wasn't enough."

Doctor Keith Todd, an expert from the aquarium who had spent the last 12 days trying to help the whale, comforted Moby as he died. Rescuers had spent two weeks using boats and divers to try and coax Moby out of the estuary.

Wildlife experts said that Moby probably took a wrong turn on an annual migration from the Arctic to the Azores and came down the east coast of Scotland instead of the west on his way to the Atlantic.

"When Moby got into the Forth he tried to go west," said Mr Kilgour. "It seems his sonar kept telling him to go west but he couldn't, and he ended up becoming beached."

Those involved in the rescue attempts dismiss any ideas that the whale was on a suicide mission. Dr John Goold of the School of Ocean Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, said: "I don't think he was trying to kill himself. If he was, he could have beached a lot sooner."

The public support for Moby and the attempt to save him astonished everyone involved.

"We were taken aback by the public support," said Mr Kilgour. "We didn't realise that it would create such an interest but it shows that the public want to see humans helping animals.

"The most important thing we can do now is sit down and talk about what to do the next time this happens, and learn how we can improve our methods," he said.