Beluga whale trapped on Paris river sparks desperate bid to save the mammal

There is a race against to save a beluga whale who has began trapped in a river. 

Normally found in the cold waters of the Arctic, the whale was first spotted swimming up the river from the English Channel on Tuesday (August 2). 

The protected species headed upstream towards Paris, which the Seine flows through, before remaining at a lock 44 miles (70km) from the French capital.

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Rescue services and biodiversity officials have been drawing up plans to rescue the animal amid concerns that if it does not return it could die in the "polluted" river.

Fears have been mounting over the whale's condition, which has been observed drifting between two locks on the river, and barely moved yesterday (Thursday, August 4). 

Observations have also indicated it appears to have "skin changes and to be underweight".

Drone footage showed the whale swimming slowly, its white silhouette just below the waterline and coming up to breathe.

Local authorities said firefighters and biodiversity officials have evaluated the 'worrying' health of the animal, and plans are being drawn up to get it back where it belongs.

Gerard Mauger, deputy head of French Marine Mammal Research Group GEEC, said the mammal spent "very little time on the surface" and appeared to have "good" lung capacity, but said rescuers were struggling to guide the whale to the mouth of the Seine.

Officials have not specified the size of this individual, but an adult beluga can reach up to four metres (13 feet) in length.

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 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".

She told Reuters: "The challenge now will be to help feed it, and try to accompany it towards the ocean."

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

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

While they migrate away from the Arctic in the autumn to feed as ice forms, they rarely venture so far south.

The sighting follows the rare appearance of a killer whale in the Seine just over two months ago.

In late May, the mammal – 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.


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