Page last updated at 11:44 GMT, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 12:44 UK

Hopes fade for Sydney whale calf


Lost whale calf bonding with yacht off the Sydney coast

A humpback whale calf separated from its mother and trying to suckle from boats off Sydney, Australia, appears to be growing weaker, observers say.

Attempts to find the calf a surrogate mother by luring it out to sea have so far failed.

Experts say that unless the calf feeds soon, it may have to be destroyed.

The calf needs up to 230 litres of milk a day, a spokeswoman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare told the AFP news agency.

The lost calf - aged between one and two months - was first sighted on Sunday just north of Sydney and soon began to try to suckle from a yacht, which it would not leave.

Rescuers towed the boat into open sea hoping that the calf would find another female to suckle from, but the attempt failed and the whale returned to an inlet near Sydney. On Wednesday, another attempt also failed.

The whale has since been trying to suckle from other boats.

Sad sight

"It sounded like a bit of a vacuum cleaner on the bottom of the boat. I finally got up and here's this whale suckling the side of the boat," sailor Peter Lewis told a commercial radio station.

"It was a very, very sad sight. It did it for about an hour, going from side to side on the boat and at times blowing air under the boat, and it just seemed to give a sigh out at one stage as if, you know, 'this isn't working'."

Chris McIntosh, a spokesman for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, told AFP that the whale probably hadn't had food for about five days and was getting weaker.

Euthanasia was "the most likely outcome, but we are not at that point yet", he said.

Another assessment of the whale's condition will take place on Thursday and a decision will be made on what is best for it, said Mr McIntosh.

One suggestion put forward by an Australian scientist was to construct an artificial teat to feed milk formula to the whale.

However, experts say that the whale needs so much milk that the idea was not an option.

The humpback whales are on the return leg of an annual round trip from the Antarctic to tropical waters to breed.

They can often be seen quite close to Sydney's beaches.

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