PARIS (AP) — French authorities are tracking a Beluga whale that strayed far from its Arctic habitat into the Seine River, raising fears that the ethereal white mammal could starve if it stays in the waterway that flows through Paris and beyond.
Drone footage shot by French fire services showed the whale gently meandering in a stretch of the river’s light green waters between Paris and the Normandy city of Rouen, many tens of kilometers (miles) inland from the sea.
“It’s quite an impressive animal, which is white (and) which seems calm. It doesn’t seem stressed, surfacing regularly,” fire service officer Patrick Hérot, from Normandy’s Eure region, told French broadcaster TF1.
Marine conservation group Sea Shepherd France said it was scrambling to assist the whale, sending drones and a boat to track it. It said the whale is likely to need food and help to guide it back toward its natural ocean habitat and that it was unlikely to survive for long in fresh water, with underwater noise — which can be confusing for whales — from the ships and boats that ply up and down the river.
“It’s condemned to die if it stays in the Seine,” Lamya Essemlali, the group’s president, told TF1.
Authorities for the Eure region said Friday that the whale was believed to be wandering in a 40-kilometer (25-mile) stretch of river between two sets of locks northwest of Paris. They said the mammal seemed worryingly thin and that it swam away from boats hoping to guide it in the direction of the river’s mouth, between the sea ports of Le Havre and Honfleur. The whale was first spotted in the river earlier this week.
Conservationists were hoping to spare the whale the fate of another, an Orca, also known as a killer whale, that strayed and then died in the Seine in May.
Belugas’ pale skin and bulbous foreheads make them easily recognizable. Known also for their sociability, they habitually live, hunt and migrate together in pods.
Belugas are considered an endangered species and are often found in shallow coastal Artic waters, according to the U.S. government’s National Ocean Service. It said that because Belugas make an array of clicking, whistling, squealing, chirping and moo sounds underwater, they’re also known as the “canaries of the sea.”