A 13-foot Beluga whale was rescued after being stuck in France’s Seine River for more than a week, but the animal died in transit back to the sea, French officials confirmed Tuesday.
The cetacean was euthanized while on its way to a saltwater pool in Normandy after being stuck at Saint-Pierre-La-Garenne, a freshwater lock 45 miles northwest of Paris, starting on Aug. 2. The whale’s health quickly deteriorated after it refused food, according to the conservation group Sea Shepherd France.
Weighing about 1,800 pounds, the whale was at least 800 pounds underweight, and veterinary exams revealed no digestive activity. Authorities injected the all-white Beluga with vitamins Saturday in hopes of reviving its appetite and strength. Rescuers described it Monday as alert but not eating.
Eighty rescue workers took six hours to remove the animal from the dock, according to Reuters. The animal was kept on a barge and assessed by scientists, who determined the weight loss was too severe to let it back out into sea. The whale was euthanized in transit. Its death was confirmed by several French media outlets and over video by the Essonne Department Fire and Rescue Service.
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“During the trip, the veterinarians noted a deterioration in its condition, particularly in its respiratory activity, and we were able to see that the animal was in pain, not breathing enough,” Florence Ollivet-Courtois, veterinarian at the fire and rescue service, said in a public statement. “The suffering was obvious for the animal, so it was important to release its tension.”
It’s unknown why the Beluga swam up the Seine. In May, an orca – also known as a killer whale – swam up the Seine after being separated from its pod. It died of natural causes after rescuers were unable to lure it out to sea.
A Beluga whale’s natural habitat is in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. Rescuers’ goal was to eventually release the whale into the English Channel rivers. Sea ice loss in Arctic waters opens the area up to more shipping, fishing and other human activities, which could impede whales’ ability to navigate, according to Sea Shepherd France.
Contributing: George Petras and Janet Loehrke, USA TODAY; The Associated Press