Environmental experts in France battling to save an underweight beluga whale discovered swimming up the River Seine, said Friday that they were in a race against time to save the animal.
They fear that the whale is slowly starving in the waterway that flows through Paris and beyond.
“We are in a race against the clock, clearly,” said Lamya Essemlali, president of marine conservation group Sea Shepherd France.
“It is really extremely thin. Its bones are protruding. I don’t know if it’s already too late.”
Rescuers have been monitoring the beluga with two drones after it was spotted in the river at Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne, 50 miles northwest of Paris, on Wednesday.
The cetacean barely moved on Thursday as it calmly coasted between two locks on the river, Eure department official Isabelle Dorliat-Pouzet said.
Drone footage showed the beluga whale swimming slowly, its white silhouette just below the waterline, and coming up to breathe.
It is not known why the animal has strayed so far from its natural habitat of colder Arctic waters, past the port of Rouen, and dozens of miles up a busy waterway towards the French capital.
Members of the public are being urged to keep away from the animal, which appears to be underweight,
“The challenge now will be to help feed it, and try to accompany it towards the ocean,” Lamya Essemlali, the head of environmental group Sea Shepherd France, said.
She said taking the beluga out of the water was out of the question as that would be too risky.
The all-white belugas normally live in Arctic and sub-Arctic oceans, although they do sometimes stray into more southern waters and river estuaries and can temporarily survive in freshwater.
French firefighters in charge of monitoring the Seine whale said their first priority was to evaluate its health before considering whether to intervene or not.
In late May, a gravely ill orca which became separated from its pod and swam dozens of miles up the Seine died of natural causes after attempts to guide it back to sea failed.
A month later, another whale, believed to be a 10-metre-long (33 foot) Minke whale, was spotted in the Seine.
In September 2018, a beluga whale was spotted in the River Thames near Gravesend for a few days, in what was then the most southerly sighting of a beluga on British shores.
Additional reporting by Reuters