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Baby whale stranded off Australia to be euthanized

August 21, 2008 | 10:48 am

Baby humpback whale

Marine mammal enthusiasts around the world have been following the plight of a baby humpback whale that had taken to suckling on boats off Australia after it had become separated from its mother.

Sadly, the country’s National Park Service decided to kill the 2- to 3-week-old calf this afternoon (Friday morning in Australia) by lethal injection, to spare the starving cetacean from further suffering, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

When I first heard about a whale nuzzling boats it reminded me of an incident off Orange County a few years ago involving a gray whale mother and calf returning from the Baja California calving grounds to the Bering Sea.

The calf kept separating from its mother and swimming up to fishing boats. The mother, several times, had to position in front of her calf and use her massive body to turn the calf away.

It raised a serious issue: Are whale-watching outfits in Baja’s lagoons — outfits that allow very close encounters and sometimes even the touching of newborn gray whales — conditioning young whales to be too trusting of humans?

That controversy faded, though, as there have been only isolated repeat incidents during subsequent northbound migrations.

In Australia, many were critical of the decision to euthanize the humpback calf. Some wanted it lured back into deep water in hope that an adult female would come along and adopt it, but experts said that would be highly unlikely and cited the deteriorating condition of the whale, which could be subject to predation by sharks.

Others wanted scientists to try to nurture the whale in captivity, but that was deemed too impractical and costly.

Australia’s National Park Service consulted with Sea World and was told that when J.J., the stranded gray whale, was raised at the San Diego facility in the 1990s it required 30-person teams working around the clock for 14 months in a 1.7-million-gallon pool that had to be partially drained and refilled every two hours to flush waste.

Not to mention the cost of milk. J.J. gained 8 tons before her 1998 release off Point Loma. She was tracked briefly and faded into obscurity.

(Check out this video regarding J.J., posted By the Whale Rescue Team, which was critical of how Sea World handled the situation.)

Unfortunately for the humpback off Australia, there was no such helping hand, only a prescribed overdose of an anesthetic. There’ll be those who say that was plenty; that nature must be allowed to take its course.

Perhaps that is true, but try convincing the human heart.

—Pete Thomas

Photo: Aboriginal whale caller, Bunna Lawrie, tries to comfort a humpback whale calf at the Basin at Pittwater, Australia. Experts decided to euthanize the weakening mammal, which had become separated from its mother.
Credit: Peter Morris / Sydney Morning Herald