Stranded beluga whale rescued from Seine river
A beluga whale stranded in the river Seine in northern France for more than a week was removed from the water early yesterday in the first stage of an ambitious rescue operation to return it to the sea.
After nearly six hours of work by dozens of divers and rescuers, the 800-kilogram cetacean was lifted from the river by a net and crane at around 4:00 a.m. and placed on a barge under the immediate care of a dozen veterinarians, AFP journalists said.
The beluga, a protected species usually found in cold Arctic waters, will be placed in a refrigerated truck and transported to the coast if tests show it is fit enough, said Isabelle Dorliat-Pouzet, secretary general of the Eure prefecture.
“We are awaiting the results of the blood test and the ultrasounds and, depending on the results, a decision will be made whether or not he should take the road to the sea,” she told a press conference by the river just an hour after the whale was pulled out.
“As I speak to you, he is alive, he is on the barge, he survived. He is being treated,” Dorliat-Pouzet said.
“We could see that he is a male, that he is very underweight and that he has a few sores,” she added.
The four-meter whale was spotted more than a week ago heading towards Paris and was stranded about 130 kilometers inland from the Channel at Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne in Normandy.
Since Friday, the animal’s movement inland had been blocked by a lock at Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne, 70 kilometers northwest of Paris, and its health deteriorated after it refused to eat.
But its condition was “satisfactory,” Isabelle Brasseur of the Marineland sea animal park in southern France told AFP on Aug. 9.
A seawater basin at a lock in the Channel port of Ouistreham has been readied for the animal, which will spend three days there under observation and treatment in preparation for its release into the open sea.
“There it will, we hope, have a better chance of survival,” said conservation group Sea Shepherd France, which is assisting the operation.
The beluga will be taken onto the high seas and released “far enough away from the coast” to regain its rightful place in nature, Dorliat-Pouzet said earlier.
The “exceptional” operation to return it to the sea is not without risk for the whale, which is already weakened and stressed, said Brasseur, part of a Marineland team sent to assist with the rescue.
“It could be that he dies now, during the handling, during the journey or at point B,” in Ouistreham, she said.