Despite a successful operation to extract a Beluga whale which had been stranded for a week in the Seine in a lock in Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne, Wallonia, the animal has died en route to Normandy, according to local French authorities.
Footage captured in the early hours of 10 August showed the animal still alive, being lifted out of the lock with a series of nets, before being transferred into a specialised lorry towards France.
“Despite an unprecedented beluga rescue operation, we are sad to announce the death of the cetacean,” announced the Calvados prefecture on Twitter, noting that the animal ultimately had to be euthanized.
The animal died shortly before arriving at the town of Ouistreham, where the animal was set to be examined by a group of veterinarians before onwards travel to the coast. The animal would have spent several days in a new lock before being released into the open sea.
“Despite the technical and logistical means implemented, the condition of the cetacean unfortunately deteriorated during the trip,” the prefecture lamented. “Veterinary expertise revealed the beluga’s great weakness and failing respiratory activity. The decision was therefore taken collectively, with the veterinarians, to euthanize it.”
The rescue attempt’s chief veterinarian explained to local media that, during the trip, vets had “noted a deterioration” of the beluga’s breathing. The cetacean was around fourth metres long and weighed around 800 kilograms.
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“We were able to see that the animal was in anoxia, therefore insufficiently ventilated, and the suffering of this animal was obvious,” vet Florence Ollivet-Courtois explained. “We decided that it was not appropriate to release him and therefore it was necessary to proceed with his euthanasia.”
Whale protection NGO Sea Shepherd, known for clashing with Japanese whaling ships in the seas, also commented on the death of the beluga whale. “It is with heavy hearts that we announce that the beluga did not survive the translocation which was risky, but essential to give an otherwise doomed animal a chance,” they said on Twitter.