A beluga whale stranded in the Seine, far from the colder waters where it belongs, has died during an attempted rescue, reports CNN. The first part of a multistage relocation operation took place early Wednesday, with the 13-foot-long, 1,800-pound marine mammal lifted out of the waters in northern France using a net and crane and moved to a barge, where a team of veterinarians waited to assist, reports the Guardian. That procedure, which took almost six hours, involved two dozen divers and multiple assistants working the ropes trying to get the whale to swim into the net so they could pull it up.
At around 4am local time they finally did just that, and the next part of the plan was to bring the whale in a refrigerated truck to the port city of Ouistreham, a 100-mile journey. There, the weak, malnourished whale was to be placed in a seawater basin for a few days so it could be observed and allowed to gain strength before it was freed off the coast. But that next phase never came to be: A fire department official tells Reuters the whale developed breathing complications during the trip and had to be euthanized. "Despite an unprecedented rescue operation, it is with sadness that we announce the cetacean's death," authorities in the Calvados prefecture announced on Twitter.
Moving the whale was known ahead of time to be a risky prospect, but the Sea Shepherd conservation group says the sea creature wouldn't have survived much longer in the warm, nonsalty waters of the river. Its health had especially gone downhill after its movement south, toward Paris, was blocked by a lock and it started refusing to eat. "The veterinarians are not necessarily optimistic," a senior official from the Eure prefecture had relayed to local media before the whale died. "It's horribly thin for a beluga, and that does not bode well for its life expectancy in the medium term." (Read more beluga whale stories.)