A sick beluga whale that entered the River Seine died on Wednesday during an attempt to return it to the sea in northern France, officials said. Rescue divers guided the whale overnight into a net before a crane lifted it from the river in a six-hour operation. The animal was then transported in a refrigerated truck to the port of Ouistreham on the English Channel.
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During the trip, the already weak beluga suffered respiratory failure and veterinarians euthanized the animal shortly after arriving in Ouistreham. “Despite an unprecedented rescue operation, it is with sadness that we announce the death of the cetacean,” local authorities in Calvados said.
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The plan was to transfer the malnourished whale to a saltwater basin in hopes that it would regain some strength before being transferred to sea, but it was a risky undertaking.
The four-meter male weighed 800kg, well below the typical weight of a 1,200kg adult beluga, and had not fed since he was first spotted on the Seine last week.
Rescuers believe he was ill before he made his way up the river 70 km from Paris. The whale’s condition deteriorated during the voyage to shore. She was still alive when she arrived in Ouistreham, but she was weak and having trouble breathing.
Marine conservation group Sea Shepherd France, which was involved in the rescue operation, said leaving the whale in the Seine would have doomed it to certain death. A beluga cannot survive prolonged periods in the warm, fresh water of rivers. “(The operation) was risky, but essential to give an animal a chance that would otherwise be doomed,” the group added.
In late May, a critically ill orca swam tens of kilometers down the Seine and died of natural causes after attempts to guide her back to sea failed. In September 2018, a beluga was spotted in the River Thames east of London. Beluga whales typically live in arctic or sub-arctic waters.
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