French rescuers euthanize stranded beluga whale

French rescuers euthanize stranded beluga whale

Rescuers tried to help the stranded beluga whale in an overnight operation. The fate of the animal had attracted attention beyond France.

The 13 foot, 1,800 pound animal had been removed from the Seine River, where it had been stranded for days, but it was later euthanized after experiencing difficulty breathing.

PARIS - A malnourished beluga whale who had been stranded in the Seine River for several days, causing its health to deteriorate rapidly, died on Wednesday after being removed from the water in a last-ditch rescue operation. Florence Ollivet-Courtois, a veterinarian, said the whale had been euthanized after scientists realized it was having difficulty breathing while being transported by truck to a saltwater basin. The suffering for this animal is obvious, and we decided that it was not appropriate to release it and that we had to proceed with its euthanasia, according to a video posted by the state authorities in the Calvados region of Normandy, where the beluga had been expected to stay under observation and receive medical treatment.

Sea Shepherd France, a conservation group, said in a Twitter post on Wednesday that the removal operation was risky but essential to give a chance to an otherwise doomed animal. The beluga, a protected species normally found in cold Arctic waters, was spotted in the Seine more than a week ago, heading toward Paris. It had been blocked near a lock at Saint-Pierre la-Garenne, about 40 miles northwest of the capital, causing growing concerns that its health had deteriorated. Sea Shepherd France, which has monitored the situation on the ground, said several efforts to feed the whale failed, even after it was given vitamins and products to stimulate its appetite. The authorities looked at several rescue options, including opening locks and nudging it to head toward the English Channel with boats. Experts dismissed such an attempt, saying it would stress the already weakened beluga and could present other risks.

Isabelle Dorliat-Pouzet, a state official from the Eure region, where the beluga was found, said on Tuesday that it was an option that was not necessarily a given, because we didn't know if the beluga would be able to withstand it. She added that we are not 100 percent sure about it yet, but it seems to us that it is better to try it than not - it is in its interest. The operation, which began late Tuesday, involved dozens of firefighters, veterinarians and scientists, lasted long into the night. After nearly six hours of work, the beluga was removed from the river around 4 a.m. on Wednesday. Images shared by Sea Shepherd France on Twitter showed divers trying to lure it into a large net. Once in the net, the 13 foot, 1,800-pound animal was lifted by a crane and placed on a nearby barge, where several veterinarians immediately attended to it. It is alive, Ms. Dorliat-Pouzet told French news channel BFM TV on Wednesday. It is terribly thin for a beluga, and that doesn't bode well for its life expectancy for the medium term. The beluga was then put into a refrigerated truck headed for a basin in the English Channel port of Ouistreham. It was expected to spend several days there under observation in preparation for its release. It was not clear why the whale had strayed so far from its natural habitat. France's Pelagis Observatory, which specializes in sea mammals, said in a statement that the nearest beluga population lived near the Svalbard Archipelago, north of Norway, about 1,860 miles from the Seine.