A lone beluga whale that can't seem to find its way back to the ocean got a helpful push back home from rescuers.
Found in the Nepisiguit River in New Brunswick, Canada, animal rescuers think the marine mammal likely swam upstream in search of dinner. Video filmed on June 2 shows the whale swimming in the clear, fresh water. The beluga's distinct bright, white skin had been tinged a shade of brown from the water, but the animal was in otherwise healthy condition.
Early Thursday morning, the whale was lured into nets by rescuers. Brett Ruskin, a reporter for the Canadian Broadcast Company, tweeted that the rescue team used a hoop net, a stretcher, and an inflatable mattress to lure the beluga onto a raft. From there, a truck then took it to the airport, where a plane will fly it back to sea, place it on a second raft, and release it back to its pod.
Air travel was used to reduce the amount of time the beluga spends in transportation.
The Marine Animal Response Society conducted the rescue operation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and a number of other wildlife response teams. Vets from the teams monitored the beluga over the past week via drone footage and had hoped it would return to the gulf on its own.
When it became apparent the beluga would not be returning home on its own, animal rescuers began to formulate a plan to move the bus-sized whale out of the Nepisiguit.
"It takes a lot of time to carefully plan out this response because it is quite complicated. The animal’s welfare and human safety are always first in our minds and so we need to make sure we have everything carefully laid out before proceeding," the Marine Animal Response Society wrote on their Facebook page on June 12.
During this time of year, belugas can be frequently found nearby in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They migrate to these warmer waters during the summer, but in the winter, they can be found in the Arctic.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies beluga whales as "near threatened," a relatively low level of concern for the organisation's wildlife classification. But belugas around New Brunswick were once nearly hunted to dangerously low levels in the early 20th century.
In Canada, it remains illegal to kill, harm, or harass belugas.