A trapped beluga whale that swam into the Nepisiguit River by mistake two weeks ago was rescued Thursday and flown from Bathurst, N.B., to Quebec.
Scientists who ran the 2½-hour rescue mission said the whale will join an adoptive pod in the St. Lawrence River.
The mammal wouldn't have got out of the river on its own, the experts said.
They hope the rescue will improve the whale's chance of survival after its stay in the northern New Brunswick river.
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The rescue mission got underway early Thursday morning. Scientists with GREMM, a marine mammal research group based in Quebec, used a hoop net, a stretcher and an inflatable mattress to capture the whale.
After coaxing the mammal into the net shortly after noon, the group carried it from the water and lifted it into the back of a truck for transportation to the airport.
The aircraft carrying the whale landed in Rivière-du-Loup, Que., at about 1:45 p.m. ET. There, it was transferred to another truck for the last leg of its journey — a 50-kilometer drive on Highway 132 through Notre-Dame-du-Portage and Cacouna before reaching the water near its new home.
Not too stressed
At a press conference at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans office in Beresford, N.B., Thursday afternoon, reporters were told that the whale did not appear too stressed during its rescue. The animal is a bit thin, however, and its skin is not in the best shape.
Once it was in the net, the scientists worked quickly to carry it out of the river, they said. They could be seen splashing water on the whale, and laying a wet towel on it.
Once ashore, the whale was treated by a vet and received an injection to keep it calm. The vet remained with the animal during its transport to Quebec and connected it to an IV while in the air.
The scientists confirmed that the whale is a male.
In an earlier interview with CBC News, Robert Michaud, the scientific director of GREMM, said the researchers hope to take the whale to the Cacouna region of the St. Lawrence River near Rivière-du-Loup, about 200 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.
Bathurst Beluga carried up from the water to a truck that will take it to the airport. pic.twitter.com/iITY51m25z— @Brett_CBC
A plan like this has never been tried before, Michaud said.
But with the beluga population declining, he was hopeful the plan would work.
It's still not clear how the beluga whale ended up in the Nepisiguit River in early June.