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Beluga Whale Stranded in France’s River Seine Dies During Rescue Effort

PARIS—The beluga whale that captured worldwide attention for wandering up the Seine river halfway to Paris died Wednesday, after veterinarians decided that its condition had worsened and it needed to be euthanized.

French officials had mobilized an ad hoc team of roughly 80 specialists, including wildlife experts, veterinarians and divers to rescue the whale from the river in what became an all-night operation from Tuesday to Wednesday.

The beluga began to have trouble breathing, leading to low oxygen levels, during its truck ride to a seaside town in Normandy where it was set to recuperate in a saltwater enclosure, regional officials said Wednesday morning.

The beluga whale began to have breathing difficulties during the journey to a saltwater enclosure.


eure department prefecture hando/Shutterstock

“The suffering of the animal was obvious,” Florence Ollivet-Courtois, a veterinarian involved in the rescue, said in a video statement on Twitter.

“It was not possible to release him and therefore it was necessary to euthanize him.”

The lone beluga whale, whose species normally lives in groups in colder Arctic or subarctic ocean waters, entered the mouth of the Seine by Le Havre last week, and started swimming upstream towards Paris. Wildlife groups and veterinarians tried, but failed, to guide the whale downstream, noticing that it appeared very thin.

French officials later trapped it in a ship’s lock in Normandy where doctors gave it food and antibiotics to encourage it to eat. Initially, French officials said they wouldn’t move the beluga because the stress of being moved can prove fatal even for healthy whales. But after being given antibiotics and vitamins, its alertness improved and officials decided to risk a rescue because the whale would otherwise die of starvation.

“We are devastated by this tragic outcome that we knew was very likely,” Sea Shepherd France, a wildlife advocacy group that has been involved in trying to help the whale, said on Twitter on Wednesday.

It remains unclear why the beluga swam into the Seine. In May, an orca weighing more than 2,400 pounds similarly entered the Seine and was later found dead. It appeared already weakened before it had entered the river. An autopsy showed it likely died from weakness as a result of lack of food.

Write to Sam Schechner at [email protected]

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