PARIS — A malnourished beluga whale who had been stranded in the Seine for several days, causing a rapid deterioration in his state of health, died on Wednesday a few hours after being pulled out of the water during a last rescue operation. appeal.
Florence Ollivet-Courtois, a veterinarian, said the whale was euthanized after scientists realized it was having difficulty breathing while being transported by truck to a saltwater pool.
“The suffering is evident for this animal, and therefore we have decided that it was not appropriate to release him and that we must proceed with his euthanasia,” said Dr Ollivet-Courtois in a press release. video posted by state authorities in the Calvados region of Normandy, where the beluga was to remain under observation in a pool and receive medical treatment.
It was the tragic end of an ambitious rescue operation that ultimately aimed to bring the whale back to sea. The plight of the beluga had drawn attention far beyond France, generating financial donations and aid of groups and individuals, officials said.
“We are devastated by this tragic outcome that we knew was very likely,” Sea Shepherd France, a conservation group, wrote in a statement. Posting on Twitter Wednesday, saying the removal operation “was risky but essential to give an otherwise doomed animal a chance.”
The beluga, a protected species usually found in the cold waters of the Arctic, was seen more than a week ago in the Seine, in the direction of Paris. Since Friday, he had been stranded near a lock in Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne, about 40 miles northwest of the capital, causing growing concern as his condition rapidly deteriorated.
Sea Shepherd France, which was monitoring the situation on the ground, said several efforts to feed the whale had failed, even after it was given vitamins and appetite-stimulating products.
Authorities considered several rescue options, including opening the locks and pushing him to head into the English Channel with boats. But experts have dismissed such an attempt, saying it would stress the already weakened beluga and could pose other risks.
Authorities ultimately decided to attempt to extract the whale from the water with the intention of releasing it back to sea, an option they initially did not feel enthusiastic about given its complexity and the associated health risks it poses. was posing for the whale.
“It was an option that was not necessarily acquired, because we did not know if the beluga would be able to resist it”, declared to the press Isabelle Dorliat-Pouzet, civil servant of Eure, where the beluga has been found. tuesday. She added: “We’re not 100% sure yet, but it seems to us that it’s better to try it than not – it’s in her best interests.”
The operation, which began Tuesday evening and involved dozens of firefighters, vets and scientists, lasted long into the night. Around 4 a.m. Wednesday, after nearly six hours of work, the beluga was finally pulled from the river.
Images shared on Twitter by Sea Shepherd France showed divers trying to lure him into a large net. Once in the net, the 13-foot, 1,800-pound animal was lifted by a crane and placed onto a nearby barge, where several vets immediately attended to him.
“He is alive,” Ms. Dorliat-Pouzet told French news channel BFM TV on Wednesday. “But he’s awfully thin for a beluga, and that doesn’t bode well for his medium-term lifespan.”
The beluga was then placed in a refrigerated truck bound for a dock in the Channel port of Ouistreham. He was to spend several days there under observation in view of his release.
It was still unclear why the whale had strayed so far from its natural habitat. France’s Pelagis Observatory, which specializes in marine mammals, said in a statement that the closest beluga whale population lives near the Svalbard archipelago in northern Norway, about 3,000 km from the Seine.
“These instances of wandering remain unusual and unexplained, with likely multiple reasons such as health status, age (sub-adults disperse more easily), social isolation, environmental conditions,” writes l ‘observatory.
It was only the second known time that a beluga was seen in France, according to the observatory. The first was in 1948, when we were pulled from the Loire estuary in a fisherman’s net. But other animals have recently strayed into the country’s rivers, including a sick orca who died in the Seine in May.
In September 2018, a beluga whale was spotted in a stretch of the River Thames in England.