In the end, there was little that could be done for Colin, the baby humpback whale whose slow and sad decline ended with a lethal injection today. For nearly a week, efforts to save the abandoned calf had transfixed Australians, been discussed on internet chat rooms and made headlines around the world.
But Colin, first sighted on Sunday trying to suckle from a yacht moored in Pittwater, north of Sydney, had little hope of surviving without its mother, and attempts failed to lure the mammal out to sea in the hope that it would be adopted by a passing pod of humpbacks.
Wildlife experts and even a whale whisperer had been brought in to try to save the 14ft animal, which was serenaded with songs, stroked by vets and gently encouraged to make its way back to the ocean. There had been talk of force-feeding it with baby formula through a tube, but the calf was clearly dying and euthanasia seemed the only option.
Even that idea was bound to cause controversy in this nation of whale-lovers, whose campaigning over the past 30 years has helped to save the humpback from extinction. Outraged animal rights activists tried to win a stay of execution. They organised a legal injunction against the National Parks and Wildlife Service to prevent Colin being put down, but they were unable to serve it in time.
After a search the night before proved fruitless, soon after daybreak, the whale was spotted and veterinary officers moved in to sedate it. For a few minutes it thrashed around as marine workers coaxed the struggling Colin to shore, hoisted the two-ton whale on to a tarpaulin and pulled it into a tent.
A few onlookers cried, “Shame! Shame!” One likened it to the Japanese slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean. Alexander Littingham, who watched the spectacle, branded the scene as “absolutely disgusting”. He added: “They have towed him behind the boat, scenes reminiscent of what we’ve seen the Japanese fishing trawlers do.” Cherie Curchod, who lives nearby, claimed the calf continued to thrash around after being given six injections. “It was so upsetting because euthanasia is meant to be an easy death and that whale did not have an easy death at all,” she said.
But John Dengate, of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, said: “That was the best way it could have been done; you put the animal out of its misery.” The calf had suffered shark-inflicted injuries and was having problems breathing. “The last thing we want is that the whale should suffer,” he added.
An autopsy will be performed on the carcass at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo to establish what was wrong. One assumption has already been proved mistaken. On close inspection, Colin turned out to be a female, so was promptly rechristened Colleen.