‘We had to euthanise it’: Beluga whale stranded in River Seine dies

‘We are sad to announce the death of the cetacean,’ say local officials

David Harding
Wednesday 10 August 2022 17:24 BST
Trapped beluga whale lifted out of Seine hours before death

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A beluga whale stranded in France’s River Seine has died, despite a mission earlier on Wednesday to save it and release it back into the sea, according to local authorities.

“Despite an unprecedented rescue operation for the beluga, we are sad to announce the death of the cetacean,” the prefect of the Calvados department, said on Twitter.

The sad announcement came just hours after rescuers attempted to transfer the animal to a saltwater basin in Normandy in a desperate attempt to save its life.

Fearing the malnourished creature would not survive in the Seine much longer, a wildlife conservation group and veterinarians planned to move the lost whale to a saltwater port in Normandy, from where they hoped to return it to the open sea.

A delicate operation to remove the whale from the river using a net and a crane, which took almost six hours, was completed earlier on Wednesday.

It was then placed on a barge placed under the care of up to a dozen veterinarians. The whale, usually found in cold Arctic waters, was then expected to be placed in a refrigerated truck before being transported to the northern French coast town of Ouistreham for a “period of care”.

A team of 80 people assembled to try to save the animal’s life.

But during the drive, the four-metre-long (13 feet) whale started to breath with difficulty, according to Florence Ollivet Courtois, a French veterinarian who worked on the rescue operation.

“During the journey, the veterinarians confirmed a worsening of its state, notably in its respiratory activities, and at the same time noticed the animal was in pain, not breathing enough,” Courtois said.

“The suffering was obvious for the animal, so it was important to release its tension, and so we had to proceed to euthanise it,” she added.

Environmentalists had acknowledged the plan to move the beluga risked fatally stressing the mammal. But marine conservation group Sea Shepherd said that it couldn’t have survived much longer in the Seine’s fresh water.

The group and veterinarians noted the whale had responded to a cocktail of antibiotics and vitamins over the last few days, making them hopeful it would recover once it was back in a saltwater environment. A necropsy is planned on the whale

The lost beluga was first spotted in the Seine last week.

Rescuers had hoped to spare the whale the fate of an orca that strayed into the Seine and died in May. In 2006, a bottlenose whale — nicknamed “Willy” — swam up the Thames River as far as London and died during a its attempted rescue. Another complicating factor during the beluga’s rescue attempt was the extreme heat gripping France. Authorities tried to keep it cool and wet with soaked towels and moved it at nightfall when temperatures are at their lowest.

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