Whale dies during Thames rescue
Official: 5-ton mammal was convulsing before death
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The whale that rescuers were carrying out to sea from the River Thames died Saturday, according to the London Port Authority.
Rescuers used a crane to lift the whale out of the river in central London and onto a barge. But the whale died on the barge hours later, before it could be returned to deeper water..
A veterinarian involved with the rescue operation said the whale was convulsing before it died, and the doctor had considered euthanizing it. An autopsy is scheduled. (Watch an explaination of why the whale died -- 5:56)
Officials had examined the whale to determine if it was healthy enough to endure the rescue attempt and decided they were "cautiously optimistic" about saving the mammal's life. (Watch the rescue attempt -- 1:59)
"It's a sad day," said Martin Garside, spokesman for the port authority. "We're returning upriver with the body of the whale, and we'll make it available to whale experts for examination."
The suspected cause of death is stress from being trapped in water much shallower than in the whale's normal ocean home.
"This whale has been in water that has only been a few meters deep," Garside said. "We mustn't forget that its normal habitat is 1,000 meters below sea level."
News of the whale's demise came hours after the dramatic rescue attempt on the Thames. Rescuers had hoped to transport the whale to the North Sea, where it could return to open water.
The whale, which was about 20 feet long and weighed about 10,000 pounds, swam more than 20 miles up the Thames after apparently becoming disoriented.
The officials who initially examined the whale said it was in generally good health, but had suffered some skin abrasions.
But some were not so sure, because the whale was swimming upstream, a sign it could be sick, confused or both.
"It's heavily scarred, and it's got what looks like an infected wound behind the left eye, and it seems to be tired and exhausted," said Edwin Timewell of the Atlantic Whale Foundation earlier. "Just by intuition, it doesn't look very well."
Added Mark Steven of British Marine Rescuers, "It's got quite a bit of damage around its head area and is flexing in an unnatural manner."The whale's presence in the Thames was first reported by a commuter who told police he must be hallucinating. By that time, it had slipped under Tower Bridge and headed upriver past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
By Saturday, it had moved upstream toward the Chelsea Bridge.
The spectacle of a 5-ton whale on the Thames drew Londoners to the river's bank Friday and Saturday. During the rescue operation, thousands cheered as the huge mammal was hoisted onto the barge.
CNN's Jonathan Wald, Jim Boulden and Katie Turner contributed to this report.
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