A team of scientific experts have begun a mission to rescue the orca which has now been trapped in the Seine river for more than a week.
The young whale was first spotted on May 16th 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.
The Seine-Maritime prefecture has warned that the creature is in a “weakened” state, because of prolonged exposure to fresh water and a lack of food.
In a bid to lure it back to sea, they are using a drone which emits orca sounds through a speaker.
Opération de guidage de l’ #Orque 🐳 en cours.
📸 photo prise ce matin en bord de Seine, avant le départ de l’équipe mobilisée.
Beaucoup d’experts et de spécialistes d’horizons très différents sont engagés
— Préfet de Normandie et de la Seine-Maritime (@Prefet76) May 28, 2022
“The use of these non-invasive methods, from several hundred metres’ distance, will make it possible to avoid using ships in the immediate proximity of the animal, which could aggravate its stress and endanger it survival, as well as the safety of rescuers,” said the Seine-Maritime prefecture in a statement.
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.
“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.