A beluga whale that was stuck in the Seine River in France has died after it developed breathing difficulties while being transported to a saltwater pool, officials said, capping a sad journey for the mammal that had strayed far from its natural habitat.
The beluga, which had been in the river for more than a week, was being moved to a saltwater basin in Normandy before it was planned to eventually be released back into the sea. Officials noted it was a risky move, but necessary for an animal that lives in cold saltwater in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions.
During transportation on Wednesday, scientists discovered that it was having respiratory issues and decided to euthanize the beluga to end its suffering.
"During the trip, the veterinarians noted a deterioration in its condition, particularly in its respiratory activity, and we were able to see that the animal was in pain, not breathing enough," veterinarian Florence Ollivet-Courtois said in a statement posted by Calvados region authorities. "The suffering was obvious for the animal, so it was important to release its tension."
The animal was first spotted in the Seine more than a week ago. Scientists were concerned by how malnourished it appeared, weighing around 800 kilograms (1,764 pounds) rather than the usual 1,200 kilograms (2,646 pounds), Reuters reported. Officials with Sea Shepherd France, a marine conservationist group, had tried to feed it to no avail.
It appeared alert after being injected with vitamins on Saturday, but the beluga was still rejecting food.
Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd France and local authorities were planning for its move to a saltwater pool, hoping to better treat it there before releasing it out to sea.
While en route to Normandy, officials announced that the beluga had died.
"It is with heavy hearts that we announce that the beluga did not survive the translocation which was risky, but essential to give an otherwise doomed animal a chance," Sea Shepherd France said. "Following the deterioration of his condition, the veterinarians took the decision to euthanize him."
It is the third time a whale has been found in the Seine in recent months. In May, a terminally ill orca died in the river after attempts to lure it back out to sea. An animal that appeared to be a minke whale was also spotted in the Seine the next month before returning to sea.
It's unclear how the beluga ended up in France, so far from its natural habitat. Beluga whales are most populous in Canadian waters, and the closest population of belugas to France are near the Svalbard islands in Norway, the Pelagis Observatory said in a statement.
Beluga whales are social, playful creatures, and often travel in small groups. In the summer, during their migration period, they convene in the thousands.