A beluga whale that captured French hearts when it showed up in the Seine River had to be euthanized Wednesday after it was successfully removed from the French waterway, authorities said.
A rescue team was preparing to transfer the whale to a saltwater pool in Normandy. The male marine mammal was first spotted in the Seine last week after having accidentally veered off its normal path to the Arctic.
During the rescue operation, the dangerously thin animal began to have breathing difficulties, and so experts decided the most humane thing to do was to euthanize the creature.
“During the journey, the veterinarians confirmed a worsening of its state, notably its respiratory activities, and at the same time noticed the animal was in pain, not breathing enough," Florence Ollivet Courtois, a French wild animal expert, said. "The suffering was obvious for the animal, so it was important to release its tension, and so we had to proceed to euthanize it.”
Conservation group Sea Shepherd France said veterinary exams after the beluga's removal from the river showed it has no digestive activity. Members of the organization had tried unsuccessfully since Friday to feed fish to the whale.
Courtois said the whale experienced distress after it was moved to a refrigerated truck and during the approximately 160-kilometer (99-mile) drive to the Normandy coast.
The whale was expected to spend several days recuperating in the saltwater pool in the northeastern French port town of Ouistreham before being towed out to sea.
The rescue team said ahead of time that the transfer carried a risk of the whale dying because of the stress involved in the process. However, the move was deemed necessary because the animal would not have been able to survive much longer in the Seine’s fresh water.
“The decision to euthanize the beluga was taken as it was too weakened to be put back into water,” Guillaume Lericolais, the subprefect of France's Calvados region, said.