Humpback whale washes up on beach in northern France

A female humpback whale nearly 10 metres long was found dead after washing up on a beach near Calais in northern France, a rare occurrence on the Channel coastline according to specialists.

The body of a humpback whale on a beach in northern France
A dead humpback whale has been found on a beach near Calais. (Photo: Denis Charlet / AFP)

“It’s an exceptional event for the region,” said Jacky Karpouzopoulos, president of the CMNF mammal preservation association and head of its “marine stranding” team.

He said tractors would pull the massive animal, weighing 20 to 25 tonnes, away from the coastline to make sure it is not swept out by the tide, “because it could be dangerous for boats” in the busy shipping lane.

An autopsy will be carried out directly on the beach, he added.

The cause of the animal’s death was not immediately clear although experts said it could have been caused by unfamiliarity with shallow waters off France’s northern coast.

“This type of stranding is quite rare on our coast – the cetacean migration passage is usually north of Britain,” said Yoan Demassieux of the League for Protection of Animals (LPA).

The whale “died only a few hours ago. It is possible that she was surprised by the numerous sandbanks here on the beaches of eastern Calais” and “that she died of suffocation under her own weight.”

He also did not rule out the possibility that the whale was suffering from an illness.

In November, a 19-metre fin whale washed up at the port of Calais after being injured.

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VIDEO: ‘Lost’ Orca whale heading up France’s Seine river

A young Orca whale that is apparently lost has been spotted heading up the Seine in northern France.

VIDEO: 'Lost' Orca whale heading up France's Seine river

The young whale was first spotted about a week ago near the port of Le Havre, around the Pont de Normandie, while the most recent sighting was further inland – about 20km from Rouen, in the Eure region.

France’s BFMTV managed to catch a video of the whale:

Experts think that the young male was separated from his group, and might be on the search for another. This typically happens when a matriarch in the pod dies.

“They are very social animals, so it is not easy for them to be alone,” explained Delphine Eloi of the GECC regional, cetacean protection group to RTL. Eloi went on to explain that the orca is likely in poor health, as its dorsal fin appears to be completely round. 

Killer whales, which despite their name belong to the dolphin family, are occasionally spotted in the English Channel but such sightings are considered rare, let alone in a river.

“Its life is in danger. We are really very, very worried. Its state of health is very poor,” said Gerard Mauger, vice president of the GECC regional, cetacean protection group. 

“The more it stays in fresh water, the more this will accelerate the degradation of its state of health,” he told AFP.

“It is far from the sea. It is really complicated to find solutions to encourage it to head to salt water.”

He said the animal is “very thin” but likely weighs over a tonne.

Experts have reminded the public that the whale is likely not dangerous to people – there has never been a reported Orca attack on a human in the wild – though it is still advisable to keep a safe distance from it.