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A fin whale in Arctic waters has been spotted in the Seine River in northern France. Authorities say they are trying to assess his health.



SCOTT SIMON, Host:

A Beluga whale, which usually lives in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, has been spotted in the Seine River on its way to Paris. The protected species is thousands of miles away from its habitat, but it is not the first whale to mysteriously end up in the Seine. NPR Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley reports.

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UNIDENTIFIED FRIEND: (Speaks French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: “Like a ghost, it’s the penetration of the polar world into the troubled waters of the Seine,” says this French television news report showing the white beluga whale swimming slowly through the river’s dark waters.

Patrick Herot was one of the firefighters who filmed the whale with a drone.

PATRICK HEROT: (Through translator) It’s an impressive animal – all white. It seems very peaceful. He doesn’t seem stressed. He goes out for air regularly.

BEARDSLEY: But authorities say the whale is stressed and running away from any contact. Its normal habitat is outside Norway, Russia or Canada.

Emmanuel Pasco-Viel with the Normandy police prefecture is in charge of the whale tracking unit.

EMMANUEL PASCO-VIEL: We have noticed him for three days now, so we need to have more information about him, especially about his health. We don’t know if he is a little sick or not.

BEARDSLEY: Pasco-Viel says the whale is thin but still very mobile. He says efforts to return him have so far failed. The beluga whale, a protected species, usually lives in a colony in arctic waters, although experts say it can survive temporarily in warm, fresh water. Officials are particularly concerned about the beluga in light of the death of a critically ill orca that broke free from its pod and swam dozens of miles up the Seine River in June. The killer whale died after attempts to drive it out to sea failed.

Lamya Essemlali with Sea Shepherd, an ocean animal rights group, says they can’t wait to see what happens this time.

LAMYA ESSEMLALI: (Through translator) Our idea is to feed this animal as soon as we can and help it return to its habitat, because if it stays in Siena, it will surely die.

BEARDSLEY: Sea Shepherd is working alongside officials in Normandy to give the whale the strength to swim more than 100 miles back out to sea. But as of last night, observers said the beluga was not making it to the dead fish it was feeding on.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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