‘Underweight’ beluga whale in France’s River Seine near Paris prompts rescue effort

A beluga whale that swam up the River Seine in France appears to be underweight and officials are worried about its health, regional authorities say.

The protected species, usually found in cold Arctic waters, had made its way up the waterway and reached a lock about 70km (44 miles) from Paris.

The whale was first spotted on Tuesday in the river that flows through the French capital to the English Channel, and follows the rare appearance of a killer whale in the Seine just over two months ago.

French rescue services, firefighters and biodiversity officials mobilised swiftly and kept a close eye on the whale throughout the day to evaluate the “worrying” health of the mammal, the local prefecture said on Thursday.

It seemed to have “skin changes and to be underweight”.

The whale is “currently between the Poses dam and that of Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne”, about 70km north-west of Paris, it said.

Gerard Mauger, deputy head of French Marine Mammal Research Group said the mammal spent “very little time on the surface” and appeared to have “good” lung capacity.

But he said rescuers were struggling to guide the whale to the mouth of the Seine.

Officials did not specify the size, but an adult beluga can reach up to four metres (13 feet) in length.

A firefighter monitors the beluga whale’s movements from a drone flying above it
A firefighter monitors the beluga whale’s movements from a drone flying above it. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Authorities in Normandy’s Eure department urged people to keep their distance to avoid distressing the animal.

Lamya Essemlali, head of the non-profit marine conservation organisation Sea Shepherd, said some of her team would arrive with drones in the evening to help locate the whale more easily.

“The environment is not very welcoming for the beluga, the Seine is very polluted and cetaceans are extremely sensitive to noise,” she said, adding that the Seine was “very noisy”.

In late May, the killer whale – also known as an orca, but technically part of the dolphin family – was found dead in the Seine between Le Havre and Rouen.

The animal had found itself stranded in the river and was unable to make its way back to the ocean despite attempts by officials to guide it.

“The urgency is to feed the whale to prevent it from suffering the same fate as the orca who died after starving to death,” Essemlali said.

The prefecture said it would assist and monitor Sea Shepherd’s efforts.

The Eure authorities said lone belugas did sometimes swim further south than usual, and were able to temporarily survive in fresh water.

They migrated away from the Arctic in the autumn to feed as ice formed, but they rarely ventured so far south.

The Guardian

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