An orca whale has been seen in difficulty in the Seine river, but authorities have not been able to intervene due to its location. The state of its health is now uncertain.
A male orca has been observed in the Seine estuary since April 5, a few dozen kilometres from the coast. Authorities in the department have met with animal specialists to discuss the situation, and have so far said it would not be safe to intervene on a boat.
FLASH - Une orque se promène depuis une semaine dans la Seine, entre Le Havre et Rouen. L'animal égaré n'est pas fait pour vivre en eau douce et semble malade.— Mediavenir (@Mediavenir) May 25, 2022
Son pronostic vital est engagé. (BFMTV) pic.twitter.com/WgaBpMcQYk
This is because the animal, which measures 4-5 metres long, is too far from the coast to enable safe intervention, even with ultrasound, and because particles in its spray could be dangerous to humans.
The decision is also out of concern for the whale’s health. A ‘rescue mission’ could cause it extra stress and put it in even more danger, said experts at le Groupe d'études des cétacés du Cotentin (GECC), which works for the biodiversity office l'Office français de la biodiversité (OFB).
The animal is “already very weak”, the prefecture said in a statement published on May 25.
It said: “This protected animal is in difficulty and has no natural inclination to separate from its group nor travel down freshwater streams. It could be injured or ill.”
Authorities and experts are now “attentively” following the animal to keep track of its location and health, the prefecture said, and are also warning people not to approach it if they see the orca.
Ideally, the whale would find its way back to the ocean but this is not certain now, given its condition.
“We are very worried,” said Gérard Mauger, vice-president of the GECC. “Its health appears to be very diminished. The more it stays in freshwater, the more its health will decline.
“It is very far from the sea, and it is very difficult to find solutions to try to entice it back to salty water.”
Mr Mauger said that the whale will likely be struggling to find enough food, as there is “less prey” in the river than in the sea, and said it will be suffering from being “all alone, when these animals usually hunt in a pack”.
He added that it is very rare to see orca whales in rivers or in the English Channel.