24 divers have assisted in an operation to rescue a 4m male beluga whale stranded in France’s River Seine – but with its health deteriorating the attempt to return it to the sea has been foiled, with veterinarians forced to euthanise the animal.
It took almost six hours in the early hours of today (10 August) for divers to lure the 800kg cetacean into a net so that it could be lifted by crane onto a barge, while the vets monitored its condition.
The beluga had made its way 130km inland from the Channel to Saint-Pierre-de-Garenne in Normandy, where a lock had blocked its progress towards Paris.
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The rescue plan was for a refrigerated lorry to transport the animal to a saltwater basin in the Channel port of Ouistreham, where its health would be monitored pending release into the sea. However, there had been concern that in its stressed and malnourished state it might not survive, and it was reported to have developed breathing difficulties during the journey.
While it did not appear to be diseased, the beluga had stopped feeding while in the river. The protected species is usually found in Arctic waters, but the disorientated animal had been spotted in the Seine in a weakened condition more than a week ago.
The rescue operation was supervised by staff from the Marineland animal park and Sea Shepherd France, which had provided updates on the challenging task.
“The beluga did not survive translocation, which was risky but essential to give a chance to an otherwise condemned animal,” stated the organisation, which had pledged 30,000 euros from its campaign budget towards the rescue operation.
Earlier it had described the operation as “an obstacle course that mobilised around 60 people”.
“Whatever the outcome, this incredible story will move France forward in assisting and caring for cetaceans in distress,” stated Sea Shepherd France before the death of the beluga. “Our country is not used to dealing with this kind of situation and is not yet well prepared.
“An incredible cohesion has taken place, with people of very different profiles, skills and even world-views united in a common goal – to give this beluga a chance.”