A beluga whale perished after becoming stuck in a lock of the Seine in France, around seventy kilometres from Paris. The cetacean’s health, already delicate after refusing food for days, deteriorated during an unusual rescue attempt to return it to the open sea. The whale weighing 800 kilos was removed from the river using a net and a crane at approximately 4 a.m. this morning, after nearly six hours of effort and many attempts attended by 24 divers and scores of rescuers, including members of the NGO Sea Shepherd. She was taken on a barge and treated by a dozen vets, but she did not survive.
The all-white beluga, a protected species found in the icy seas of the Arctic, was observed more than a week ago on its trip to Paris and ran aground in Saint-Pierre-La-Garenne, Normandy, around 130 kilometres inland from the Channel. The whale has been tracked minute by minute since it was discovered. However, the animal had very poor condition of health and symptoms of hunger from the start, making rescue impossible. Furthermore, the failure of previous attempts to feed the animal organically resulted in a new plan. Over the weekend, rescuers gave out vitamins and medicines to help with the shortage of food and the dangers of fresh and contaminated water.
The beluga is a male with no infectious sickness but no digestive action, which explains why he no longer eats, the NGO Sea Shepherd disclosed on Twitter.
“It was supposed to be released today” in a saltwater lock in Ouistreham, Calvados, after being hauled to the coast by a refrigerated truck, before being returned to the high seas after three days of surveillance. It took “longer than expected,” but “it’s a wild animal” and a novel technology, “so we had to move step by step,” said Isabelle Dorliat-Pouzet, sub-prefect of Évreux, applauding the 80-person team effort.
Responding to a series of criticisms over the rescue, Sea Shepherd France stated on its website that those who believe it is sufficient to open the lock and “let it go back to the sea”: it would be a simple solution, but it is more than 150 kilometres from the estuary, must pass another lock, is physically degraded, and had previously tended to head towards Paris rather than the sea.
Responding to another criticism that the whale should have been immediately taken out of the water, the NGO said that it is done regularly in the captive sector, notably in Taiji, Japan, where wild captures are still permitted. However, the death rate is relatively high. The amount of stress on a weakened animal must be considered since the possibility of death during transport is significant. It was required to consider the merits and negatives, as well as cope with all of the practical restrictions related to the lock’s position, the temperature in the middle of August, and whether a release at sea should be done immediately or whether a transit in a salt basin to offer care was desirable.
The NGO said that it had consulted on euthanasia. The beluga specialists in Quebec have worked with the species for decades, and their conclusion is clear: any choice to euthanize would be premature.
It also said that putting it to sleep and taking it to sea was not an option since dolphins had aware breathing. As a result, it would stop breathing and die.
The beluga was not the first whale to appear in the Seine.
After weeks of roaming in the river, an orca died of starvation in May, while a fin whale was observed at the mouth near Le Havre in June.