Stranded beluga whale rescued from France’s Seine river

A beluga whale stranded in the river Seine in northern France for more than a week was removed from the water early on Wednesday morning in the first stage of an ambitious rescue operation to return it to the sea.

Stranded beluga whale rescued from France's Seine river
Rescuers pull up a net as they rescue a beluga whale stranded in the River Seine at Notre Dame de la-Garenne, northern France. Photo by JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP

After nearly six hours of work by dozens of divers and rescuers, the 800-kilogram cetacean was lifted from the river by a net and crane at around 4am and placed on a barge under the immediate care of a dozen veterinarians, AFP journalists said.

The beluga, a protected species usually found in cold Arctic waters, will be placed in a refrigerated truck and transported to the coast if tests show it is fit enough, said Isabelle Dorliat-Pouzet, secretary general of the Eure préfecture.

“We are awaiting the results of the blood test and the ultrasounds and, depending on the results, a decision will be made whether or not he should take the road to the sea,” she told a press conference by the river just an hour after the whale was pulled out.

“As I speak to you, he is alive, he is on the barge, he survived. He is being treated,” Dorliat-Pouzet said.

“We could see that he is a male, that he is very underweight and that he has a few sores,” she added.

The four-metre whale was spotted more than a week ago heading towards Paris and was stranded about 130 kilometres inland from the Channel at Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne in Normandy.

Since Friday, the animal’s movement inland had been blocked by a lock at Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne, 70 kilometres northwest of Paris, and its health deteriorated after it refused to eat.

But its condition was “satisfactory”, Isabelle Brasseur of the Marineland sea animal park in southern France told AFP on Tuesday.

A seawater basin at a lock in the Channel port of Ouistreham has been readied for the animal, which will spend three days there under observation and treatment in preparation for its release into the open sea.

“There it will, we hope, have a better chance of survival,” said conservation group Sea Shepherd France, which is assisting the operation.

The beluga will be taken onto the high seas and released “far enough away from the coast” to regain its rightful place in nature, Dorliat-Pouzet said earlier.

“Today is a great day for this beluga whale and for everyone involved in its rescue,” Sea Shepherd said on its website.

The “exceptional” operation to return it to the sea is not without risk for the whale, which is already weakened and stressed, said Brasseur, part of a Marineland team sent to assist with the rescue.

“It could be that he dies now, during the handling, during the journey or at point B,” in Ouistreham, she said.

The 24 divers involved in the operation and the rescuers handling the ropes had to try several times between 10pm and 4am to lure the animal into the nets to be lifted out of the water.

As preparations for the operation got under way, people gathered along the banks of the river to observe.

“I’m hopeful that he will reach the sea and that he will not end up like the orca,” said Isabelle Rainsart, referencing a killer whale that was spotted in the Seine in May but later died.

“We will wait to see how the transport goes, but we may have already succeeded in the hard part,” added Rainsart, who first filmed the beluga on August 2nd from her garden overlooking the river.

Interest in the beluga’s fate has spread far beyond France, generating a large influx of financial donations and other aid from conservation groups as well as individuals, officials said.

While belugas migrate south in the autumn to feed as ice forms in their native Arctic waters, they rarely venture so far.

According to France’s Pelagis Observatory, which specialises in sea mammals, the nearest beluga population is off the Svalbard archipelago, north of Norway, 3,000 kilometres from the Seine.

The trapped whale is only the second beluga ever sighted in France. The first was pulled out of the Loire estuary in a fisherman’s net in 1948.

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France opens up first offshore windfarm – but will more follow?

President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated France’s first offshore windfarm off the coast of Saint-Nazaire on Thursday as he seeks to accelerate renewable energy supply and improve energy security.

France opens up first offshore windfarm - but will more follow?

The 80 turbines will enter full service by the end of the year, and Macron has previously set a goal of about 50 offshore windfarms “providing up to 40 gigawatts” in service by 2050.

Following the belated inauguration of the country’s first offshore windfarm, another at Fécamp is due to start generating power in 2023. Sites in Saint-Brieuc, Fécamp and Courseulles-sur-Mer are set to enter service in 2024.

But France has a long way to go to meet the President’s target, and to catch up with its European neighbours. Before the Saint-Nazaire wind farm (‘parc éolien’ – en français), France had only one floating offshore wind farm off the coast of Le Croisic.

At Thursday’s inauguration event, Macron was to set out the “main lines” of a bill to accelerate France’s renewable energy programme, which will be presented to the Council of Ministers on Monday, September 26th.

READ ALSO France generates electricity from offshore wind farm for the first time

There is no doubt that renewable energy production in France is accelerating. On top of the 80 offshore turbines at Saint-Nazaire, just under 9,000 onshore turbines are currently producing electricity in France – eight years ago, around half that number of land-based turbines were operational. 

The first turbines in France were only installed in the 1990s – by which time countries like Germany and Denmark already had large-scale operations in place. 

More turbines would be in operation now in France, but for the lengthy planning process and appeals against projects, which have delayed construction for several years.

Hauts-de-France and Grand-Est, account for 50 percent of the wind-produced power in France. Île-de-France, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, and Corsica lag behind the other regions.

READ MORE: Energy shortages: What’s the problem with France’s nuclear industry?

In 2020, wind produced just eight percent of its electricity from wind, behind hydroelectric stations, while nuclear power generated nearly 70 percent of the country’s electricity.

Wind power accounted for 20 percent of electricity generation in Germany and Spain, while the UK was at 30 percent in 2020, Portugal produced 40 percent, and Denmark’s windfarms met 60 percent of the country’s electricity needs.