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Beluga whale in Seine dies during rescue operation

The whale was euthanised during the unprecedented mission as vets said its ‘suffering was evident’ and it was unlikely to survive any future release back into the sea

A photo of a beluga whale in water

The beluga whale died during a rescue operation to transfer it to more suitable salt water (image for illustration only) Pic: JohnL / Shutterstock

The beluga whale that was seen in the Seine over the past week has died during a transfer that would have seen it moved to an area of salt water for observation and care.

The Calvados prefecture, with pompiers veterinarian Ollivet Courtois, announced the sad news on its Twitter account. It said: “Despite an unprecedented rescue operation of the beluga, we are sad to announce the death of the cetacean.”

The prefecture said that the animal had been euthanised by vets “because its suffering was evident” and the functioning of its respiratory system was deteriorating. It would have been unlikely to survive being released back into the sea, Ms Courtois said.

Marine life NGO Sea Shepherd, along with vets, helped to remove the whale from the Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne (Eure) lock, last night (Tuesday, August 9), in a net.

Read more: Seine beluga update: Plus, why are sea creatures entering the river? 

The whale was then loaded into a refrigerated van, for transfer to Calvados, where it would have been placed in an area of salt water for observation, with a view to helping it heal from its illness before being released back into the ocean within days.

The four-metre-long whale weighed 800 kilos but was very thin and had not been eating, Sea Shepherd had said. More used to cold seawater, it was likely weakened further by the time spent in the river.

Read more: Animal seen in Seine river in north west France is a beluga whale 

During the rescue, deputy prefect Isabelle Dorliat-Pouzet said that the moment when the whale was lifted out of the water was “extremely intense and stressful because the whale was surprised, it moved around”.

An initial health check “confirmed the animal’s low weight but did not enable us to determine the cause…veterinarians had given it a poor prognosis”. It was identified as a male.

Sea Shepherd said that the whale “no longer had any digestive activity”, but did not have an infectious illness. Vets had planned to help it “restimulate its digestion” but did not know the reason for the issue.

While the whale appeared healthy enough to enable it to leave on the refrigerated van towards Ouistreham (Calvados) at 06:30 this morning (August 10), it died hours later. 

The rescue took six hours and included 24 divers who helped arrange ropes and the net around the animal, to enable it to be lifted safely. Overall, 80 people were involved, including firefighters, gendarmerie, zoologists and vets.

The rescue took several attempts between 22:00 and 04:00.

Deputy prefect Ms Dorliat-Pouzet said: “It took longer than planned. It’s a wild animal and this was a new technique, so we needed to go step-by-step.”

Sea Shepherd had warned that “the whale could die during the journey”, as it had already been weakened by stress and illness.

The NGO said that the transfer had been “necessary to give the animal a chance” but said it was still “devastated” at the death. 

It said: “We knew it was very likely…but we offer infinite thanks to those who helped in this unprecedented operation…firefighters, carers, volunteers, followers, and Eure deputy prefect Isabelle Dorliat-Pouzet”.

It comes after an Orca whale that entered the Seine river in May also died despite attempts to intervene, after having been observed to be sick and weak on arrival.

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