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ENVIRONMENT

‘Little hope’ of saving beluga whale stranded in France’s River Seine

Hopes of saving a malnourished beluga whale that has swum up the Seine river were receding on Sunday, but rescuers said they have ruled out "euthanasia" for now.

A beluga whale swims between two locks on the Seine river, in Notre-Dame-de-la-Garenne, northwestern France
A beluga whale swims between two locks on the Seine river, in Notre-Dame-de-la-Garenne, northwestern France, on August 6, 2022. Photo by JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP

The whale was first spotted on Tuesday in the river that runs through Paris to the English Channel. Since Friday it has been between two locks some 70 kilometres (44 miles) north of the French capital.

But leaving it in the warm stagnant water between the lock gates is no longer an option.

“He has to be moved in the coming 24-48 hours, these conditions are not good for him,” Sea Shepherd France head Lamya Essemlali told AFP.

Specialists held out “little hope” for the visibly underweight whale, Essemlali said.

“We are all doubtful about its own ability to return to the sea,” she said.

A beluga whale swims between two locks on the Seine river, in Notre-Dame-de-la-Garenne, northwestern France, on August 6, 2022. (Photo by Jean-François MONIER / AFP)

“Even if we ‘drove’ it with a boat, that would be extremely dangerous, if not impossible”.

However, “the euthanasia option has been ruled out for the moment, because at this stage it would be premature,” she said.

The whale still has “energy … turns its head, reacts to stimuli”, she said after a meeting of experts and French officials.

Although rescuers have tried feeding it frozen herring and then live trout, the animal was refusing the food.

“His lack of appetite is surely a symptom of something else… an illness.

He is malnourished and this dates back weeks, if not months. He was no longer eating at sea,” Essemlali said.

Small spots that were reported on its pale skin on Saturday were likely due to the fresh water, Sea Shepherd said.

President of marine conservation NGO Sea Shepherd France Lamya Essemlali (2nd R) gathers with colleagues near the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garenne lock as they work with local authorities to rescue a beluga whale in the Seine river in Notre-Dame-de-la-Garenne, northwestern France, on August 6, 2022. (Photo by Jean-François MONIER / AFP)

Another option under consideration would be to take it out of the water, give it vitamins, check the cause of the illness and ship it out to sea to feed.

Rare sighting

Belugas are normally found only in cold Arctic waters, and while they migrate south in the autumn to feed as ice forms, they rarely venture so far.

An adult can reach up to four metres (13 feet) in length.

According to France’s Pelagis Observatory, specialised in sea mammals, the nearest beluga population is off the Svalbard archipelago, north of Norway, 3,000 kilometres (1,800 miles) from the Seine.

It is only the second recorded sighting of a beluga in a French river since 1948, when a fisherman in the estuary of the Loire river found one in his nets.

The sighting comes just a few months after a killer whale — also known as an orca, but technically part of the dolphin family — became stranded in the Seine and was later found dead between Le Havre and Rouen in late May.

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

An autopsy found the animal, more than four metres long, had likely suffered exhaustion after being unable to feed.

Officials said they had also discovered a bullet lodged in the base of its skull — though it was far from clear that the wound played a role in its death.

 

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FOOD & DRINK

Moules-frites in danger: Spider crabs wreak havoc on French mussel population

Warming sea temperatures are bringing more spider crabs to France's coastline, which could spell disaster for the French mussel industry.

Moules-frites in danger: Spider crabs wreak havoc on French mussel population

You may not be able to see it from land, but underwater, an invasive species of spider crabs are ravaging the mussel population on the Western coast of France.

In Normandy and Brittany, mussel farmers are struggling to control the expanding spider crab population – which normally migrates onward, but has stayed put on France’s coasts.

Experts believe the crabs, who feast on mussels and all manner of shellfish, have not continued in their migration due to warming water temperatures, as a result of the climate crisis.

This has left French mussel farmers worried that if the crab population is not controlled, then mussel production could end in the region within a decade. 

Some mussel farmers, like David Dubosco, have lost a significant amount of mussels in just the last year. Dubosco told TF1 that in 2022 he lost at least 150 tonnes.

(You can listen to The Local France team discuss the future of moules-frites in our new podcast episode below. Just press play or download it here for later.)

Dubosco is not alone in his experience. According to reporting by TF1, production across the board will be lower this year 2022, which means that the number of mussels imported from other countries will likely increase, a decision that will not be popular with French consumers who prefer homegrown mussels to make the classic moules-frites.

The proliferation of the spider crabs has been an ongoing problem for the last six years, but due to warming waters, more and more have stayed in French waters.

The crabs do not have many predators besides humans – as they are edible, but the supply has begun to outweigh demand. Additionally, the crabs have grown so big that traditional cages used to trap them are no longer effective, according to Actu France.

On September 21st, over 80 mussel producers staged a demonstration in front of the Manche préfecture in Saint-Lô to demand further measures against this invasive species.

“We have seen the proliferation of spider crabs and our alerts have gone unheeded by the administrative authorities. The species comes to feed on our stocks,” said Vincent Godefroy, head of the “Group of mussel farmers on bouchot” (Groupement des mytiliculteurs sur bouchot) to Actu France. 

In response, the Manche prefecture met with six representatives from the group, eventually publishing a a statement saying it would allow “for the experimentation of new measures” to combat the crabs, which would include dragging them out to sea.

Additionally, government actors and mussel farmers will work together this autumn to conduct a study on the economic value of spider crabs with goals of building up a new industry. The assessment will be made in November.

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