SAINT-PIERRE-LA-GARENNE, France — French environmentalists hoped on Friday to feed a catch of herring to a worryingly thin beluga that has strayed far from its Arctic habitat into France‘s Seine River. They fear that the ethereal white mammal is slowly starving in the waterways that flow through Paris and beyond.
“We are clearly in a race against the clock,” said Lamya Essemlali, president of marine conservation group Sea Shepherd France. “It’s really extremely thin. Its bones are sticking out. I don’t know if it’s already too late.”
Conservationists were hoping to spare the whale a different fate, a killer whale, also known as a killer whale, that got lost and then died in the Seine in May.
The beluga was first seen in the river earlier this week. Drone footage subsequently shot by French fire services showed the whale gently bobbing in a stretch of the river’s pale green waters between Paris and the Normandy city of Rouen, many dozens of kilometers (miles) inland from the sea.
“It is a rather impressive animal, which is white (and) seems calm. It doesn’t seem stressed, it appears regularly, says fire service officer Patrick Hérot, from Normandy’s Eure region, to French TV station TF1.
But Sea Shepherd France said the whale looked in poor shape when it was spotted on Friday. The group had a boat on the river along with drones trying to monitor it – no straightforward task with a mammal that can spend many minutes underwater.
Sea Shepherd France hoped to help the whale maintain its strength by feeding it a herring catch, Essemlali said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
“We are very concerned,” she said. “It is urgent to feed it.”
In ocean waters, Belugas eat a variety of fish as well as squid, octopus, crabs, shrimp and other animals. But the freshwater river cannot sustain its dietary needs.
“It cannot feed itself in the Seine,” Essemlali said.
Belugas are relatively small members of the cetacean family, growing to about 4 meters (13 feet) in length.
Instead of trying to lure the weakened whale back down the river toward the sea, Sea Shepherd France is pushing for it to be captured so it can then be repatriated by air to the Arctic waters it likely came from, Essemlali said. She said DNA testing could determine whether it came from waters around Norway, Canada or Russia.
“It’s logistically difficult, but it can be done,” she said. “It will be a matter of will.”
“It will only be possible if we can feed it,” she added.
Authorities for the Eure region said the whale is believed to be wandering a 40-kilometre stretch of river between two sets of locks northwest of Paris. They also said the mammal appeared worryingly thin and swam away from the boats, hoping to guide it towards the river’s wide mouth, between the ports of Le Havre and Honfleur.
“It is capable of spending long periods submerged and moving over long distances,” Eure authorities said in a statement.
Belugas’ pale skin and bulbous forehead make them easily recognizable. They are also known for their sociability and live, hunt and travel together in pods.
Belugas are considered an endangered species and are often found in shallow coastal Artic waters, according to the US government’s National Ocean Service. It said that because Belugas make a series of clicking, whistling, squealing, chirping and moo sounds underwater, they are also known as the “canaries of the sea”.
Leicester reported from Le Pecq, France.