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Colin the humpback whale put to sleep

August 22, 2008 | 11:55 am

Babywhale2_narrowweb__300x45001A wayward baby humpback whale that had tugged on the heartstrings of marine mammal lovers around the world after it began mistaking boats off the coast of Australia as its mother, was killed today to spare it from further suffering, experts said.

The 2- to 3-week-old calf, nicknamed Colin, received anesthetic by a veterinarian aboard a yacht off Pittman Bay near Sydney and "went quietly to sleep," a spokesman for the country’s National Parks and Wildlife Service told Agence France-Presse news service.

But the saga is not over. The Daily Telegraph is reporting that a whale carcass found being preyed upon by sharks off a remote portion of coast may be Colin’s mother.

And the National Parks Service has revealed that Colin should have been named Colleen because she is a female. DNA tests will determine if the carcass is indeed the mother.

What an emotional week for whale enthusiasts and parks officials.

Protesters had called for the calf to be towed offshore a second time -- after the first attempt had failed -- to be reunited, perhaps, with its mother or adopted by another adult female. Neither scenario was deemed viable as the calf withered for lack of mother’s milk.

Some wanted the calf raised in captivity until healthy enough for release, but that was deemed too costly and impractical, especially given the whale’s deteriorating condition.

An aboriginal "whale whisperer" was called upon to console the calf with song in its final hours. Said Bunna Lawrie to the Sydney Morning Herald: "He felt really lonely and wanted to be with his mother and family."

(Bunna apparently was not informed by the calf that it was a male.)

The difficult decision to kill the calf probably was appropriate, given the circumstances.

Humpbacks are returning from the Antarctic to tropical waters to breed. If the calf’s mother indeed perished, it was highly unlikely it would be weaned by another whale. Pregnant mothers or those with calves do not generally adopt stray calves, as they have all they can handle already.

Stray calves die every year, but mostly out of the limelight. So it could have been worse. This calf, had it remained offshore, may also have fallen prey to sharks, or merely succumbed to starvation.

At least the suffering has ended.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Sydney Morning Herald