SYDNEY, August 22 – A lost baby whale which captured hearts around the world as it tried to suckle from an Australian yacht it thought was its mother was killed Friday to end its suffering, wildlife rangers said.
"The calf has been quietly and humanely euthanised," National Parks and Wildlife Service spokesman Chris McIntosh told AFP. "It was a sad moment, but it went quietly to sleep."
A vet on board a small boat in Pittwater Bay near Sydney’s Palm Beach first administered an anaesthetic through a large needle, by simply leaning overboard and injecting the weakened humpback calf, he said.
The animal, nicknamed Colin, was then moved onto the beach and given the euthanasia drug behind screens under tight security, with a small group of protesters kept outside an exclusion zone.
The calf’s fate had been the focus of growing concern in Australia as efforts to reunite it with passing pods of humpback whales failed and a series of desperate rescue proposals was made.
The army was asked whether it could help float Colin back out to sea while a scientist suggested it could be fed formula milk through an artificial teat.
An Aboriginal ‘whale whisperer’ was brought in to comfort him on Thursday, singing ancient songs which brought Colin to the side of the national parks’ boat, where it lifted its head and allowed itself to be patted.
"He felt really lonely and he wanted to be with his mother and family," said Bunna Lawrie of the Mirning tribe from the Great Australian Bight.
But the head of the national parks service, Sally Barnes, said that while the decision to euthanise the whale was difficult there was no other option.
"It was suffering extremely so we’ve had to make the very difficult decision," she said.
The calf was first spotted on Sunday and had weakened rapidly over the past couple of days without the daily 230 litres of mothers’ milk which it would normally consume.
In a remarkable effort to return it to the ocean, the calf was lured out to sea on Monday by a ‘mother ship’, a whale-sized yacht from which it had been trying to suckle after apparently being abandoned by its mother.
But after failing to find its own mother or an adoptive parent among the pods of whales passing Pittwater, Colin returned to the bay and again began trying to suckle yachts.
The humpbacks are on the return leg of an epic annual round trip from the Antarctic to tropical waters to breed, and they can be seen ploughing homewards not far off Sydney’s beaches on most days.
Experts say that the passing whales and Colin would have been able to communicate, but that the chance of him being adopted was always extremely slim.
The whale’s body was taken to Sydney’s Taronga zoo, where an autopsy will be carried out.