Paris — Marine conservationists said Tuesday that a risky operation was planned to try to save a beluga whale stranded for a week in France’s Seine river. The beluga — a species that should be found in arctic or subarctic seas — has been monitored for days amid mounting fear over its deteriorating health.
It was stranded in the Seine, which runs right through the center of Paris, about 40 miles northwest of the French capital, swimming slowly between two locks.
“Today, a major, complex operation will be undertaken that is not without risk but is indispensable for the beluga. This a major first in France,” said the Sea Shepherd group in Tuesday a post on its Facebook page.
“Today’s major operation will consist of transporting the beluga, which is 150km [about 93 miles] from the sea, to a saltwater basin, better adapted to its physiology, so that it can receive treatment and medical follow up,” Sea Shepherd said. “We want to determine if what is ailing him and stopping him eating is something we can help with [or] if it is incurable.”
The group promised to finance the operation and said it was urgently trying to raise 30,000 euros (about the same in U.S. dollars) for this operation. Sea Shepherd said it had already received generous donations of some of the materials that would be required.
As of Monday, experts were voicing little optimism that the beluga could survive. It was first spotted in the river last Tuesday, northwest of Paris.
Local police and fire services were mobilized to monitor it and they used drones to track its movements before closing it between to two locks to keep it safe.
Veterinarians called in by the authorities noted that the 13-foot-long whale appeared thin and in poor health, leading many to conclude that it likely had been deteriorating for several weeks.
Efforts to feed the beluga have been unsuccessful. Even after vets injected it with steroids and antibiotics, it still ignored the food being offered.
Sea Shepherd, which has had staff present at the site, said it was possible the animal had been suffering from an illness for several weeks.
“Its lack of appetite is almost certainly a symptom of something else, something we don’t know about, an illness,” said Lamya Essemlali, president of Sea Shepherd France. “It is undernourished and likely has been for several weeks, or even months. It stopped eating while it was still at sea.”
The group noted, however, that the whale was still showing curiosity about the activity around it and was still moving, albeit slowly. Those factors kept talk of euthanizing the animal at bay until the rescue attempt plan was announced on Tuesday.