Lost baby whale euthanized in Australia

August 21, 2008 6:25:03 PM PDT
An injured and abandoned baby humpback whale was euthanized by wildlife officials Friday after veterinarians determined it was too weak to survive on its own.The plight of the whale calf, which Australians have nicknamed "Colin," has dominated news coverage here since it was first sighted Sunday and began trying to suckle from boats it apparently mistook for its mother.

Friday morning, the 14-foot-long animal was guided close to the shore and could be seen thrashing about. Officials reached out to stroke the calf before others hoisted it onto a tarp. The whale was then pulled into a tent on the beach and gray tarps were hung to obscure the operation.

Roger Bell, spokesman for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, said the animal was given an anesthetic in the water before a lethal drug was administered on shore. He said it died around 9 a.m.

"The whale suffered as little as possible," he told The Associated Press.

"Shame! Shame!" cried Brett Devine, a rescue worker who had hoped to feed the whale via a tube.

Eight maritime police boats patrolled the waters to keep the public and media from approaching.

"It's a tragic end to a program that dozens of people have put their hearts and souls into," John Dengate of the wildlife service told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Officials believe the 1- to 2-month-old calf was abandoned by its mother, possibly because it was ill. Wildlife officials said it appeared the whale had also been attacked by a shark.

It spent days among the yachts and other boats in the waters off north Sydney, swimming back to the boats each time officials lured it out to sea in the hope it would attach to a passing pod of humpback whales.

"As the calf is still being breast fed, we have no way of feeding or socializing it, so taking this humpback into captivity is not an option," the National Parks and Wildlife Service said in a statement this week.

On Thursday, veterinarians and marine researchers who examined the whale found that its condition was deteriorating quickly and that euthanizing it was the most humane option.

"We have a whale whose condition has deteriorated rapidly over the last 24 hours, and who now experts are telling us is suffering, and we've had to make the hard decision to euthanize the whale," Barnes told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio Friday morning.

"It's a very emotional decision."

She said officials had sought national and international advice on how to help the lost whale but its condition had become too poor to treat.

Some Australians have accused wildlife officials of not doing enough to help the calf and not trying to feed it. A few people designed feeding mechanisms, many gave advice, and some journeyed to Pittwater Inlet just to watch the lonely calf.

On Thursday, Aboriginal whale whisperer Bunna Lawrie tried to soothe the listless animal. Adorned with feathers on his head and white paint markings on his face, Lawrie reached into the water to stroke Colin while singing a humming, tongue-rolling tune.

But after a few minutes the whale swam away to nuzzle a nearby yacht.

"He's missing the big fellas," said Lawrie, whose visit was broadcast on Channel 10 television.


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