‘A big day for the beluga’: French rescuers try to move stranded whale into saltwater tank

The whale has been stranded in the River Seine for almost a week

David Harding
Tuesday 09 August 2022 17:35 BST
France running out of time as beluga whale stuck in River Seine refuses food

The beluga whale stranded in France’s River Seine for almost a week will be moved to a saltwater tank on Tuesday for checks and care, an organisation trying to rescue the animal said.

The beluga, which strayed into the Seine several days ago and swam nearly halfway to Paris, had been confined in a ship’s lock, where it has received vitamins and antibiotics over the weekend.

However it has failed to eat and there are concerns about the beluga’s weight, environmental group Sea Shepherd France has said.

It was unclear why the whale has strayed so far from its natural arctic habitat, where it normally lives and there are serious concerns over its chances of survival in the Seine’s warmer, non-salty waters. But there is hope after the whale responded to a cocktail of antibiotics and vitamins the last few days and visibly “rubbed itself on the lock’s wall and got rid of patches that had appeared on its back”.

“Today is a big day for the beluga and all those involved in its rescue,” Sea Shepherd France said in a tweet.

In the saltwater tank, the whale “will be monitored and get help, with the hope that what it suffers from can be cured,” it said. “It will then be released in the sea with, we hope, better chances of survival.”

Sea Shepherd France has described plans to move the beluga – which was first spotted last week in the Seine, worryingly far from its Arctic habitat – as an “enormous operation”. While the move “has a risk factor because it’s stressful” for the animal, it can’t survive much longer in the Seine’s fresh water, the group said.

Because of the extreme heat in France's Eure region, rescuers are expected to wait until late afternoon before moving the creature, which weighs nearly a tonne and which French media say may be transported on a barge and covered in wet towels to keep it cool.

Drone footage on Monday showed the white whale coming up for air as it turned slow circles in the lock just below the water’s surface.

In late May, a gravely ill orca swam dozens of miles up the Seine and died of natural causes after attempts to guide it back to sea failed.

In September 2018, a beluga whale was spotted in the River Thames near Gravesend, east of London, for a few days, in what was then the most southerly sighting of a beluga on British shores.

(With agencies)

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