Officials confirmed Wednesday that the whale was euthanized after it began to experience breathing difficulties while in transit to the sea.
The beluga, which had been trapped in the river since Aug. 2, had become somewhat of a celebrity in France. The animal was stuck in a freshwater lock at St.-Pierre-La-Garenne, about 72 miles from Paris.
According to Reuters, it took over 80 rescue workers six hours to remove the whale from the river on Tuesday night using a large net and a crane. The male beluga (which was four metres long and weighed about 1,764 pounds) was then lowered onto a barge for medical evaluation.
The French branch of the international conservation group Sea Shepherd examined the beluga and confirmed its poor health condition. Sea Shepherd France reported that the beluga was malnourished and had likely not eaten since it entered the Seine last week.
Attempts to feed the whale fish throughout the week had been unsuccessful.
After evaluation, the whale was moved onto a refrigerated truck to be transported to a pre-established lock in the Channel port of Ouistreham, where it was to be released into the sea.
The sickly whale was euthanized before the truck could reach the coast.
“During the journey, the veterinarians confirmed a worsening of its state, notably its respiratory activities, and at the same time noticed the animal was in pain, not breathing enough,” Florence Ollivet Courtois, a French wild animal expert, told Associated Press.
“The suffering was obvious for the animal, so it was important to release its tension, and so we had to proceed to euthanize it,” said Courtois.
It is unclear how the beluga, a species most commonly found in the Arctic and subarctic waters, found its way to the River Seine. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), melting sea ice is opening Arctic regions to more shipping, fishing and other human activities. This in turn affects the whale’s ability to communicate and navigate.
According to France’s Pelagis Observatory, an organization which specializes in marine biodiversity, the closest beluga population to the Seine is off the Svalbard archipelago, 3,000 kilometres north of Norway.
The observatory claimed health status, age, social isolation, environmental conditions and a myriad of other factors may have also contributed to the lone beluga whale’s stranding.
This beluga whale, however, is not the only marine animal to swim into the River Seine in recent years. In May, an orca whale was found dead after swimming the Seine in Normandy. In 2018, another beluga, nicknamed “Benny,” survived about three months in the River Thames.