Stranded beluga whale rescued from Seine in northern France

Four-metre-long animal will now be taken to a saltwater basin on France’s northern coast amid hopes it can be saved.

A beluga whale stranded in the Seine in northern France was removed from the river early on Wednesday in the first stage of an operation to rescue the animal, which strayed far from its usual habitat in arctic or subarctic seas.

After nearly six hours of work, the 800-kg (1,800-lb) whale was lifted from the river using a net and crane at about 4:00am local time (02:00 GMT) and placed on a barge under the immediate care of a dozen veterinarians, the AFP news agency reported, citing its reporter at the scene.

A medical team plans to transport the whale to the northeastern French port town of Ouistreham in Normandy, where its health can be monitored in a saltwater basin close to the sea.

Conservationists had been trying to feed the beluga since Friday without success and feared it was wasting away. Local authorities said it had shown signs of improvement after receiving a cocktail of vitamins and antibiotics.

The “exceptional” operation to return it to the sea is not without risk for the whale, said Isabelle Brasseur of the Marineland sea animal park in southern France, who is part of a rescue team that also includes the NGO Sea Shepherd France.

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

[Translation: The beluga (whale) has been taken out of the water after many hours of preparation and effort. Well done to the teams involved. The first medical tests have been completed and the results will be known soon. The beluga is now on the road to Ouistreham]

Some 24 divers were involved in the operation to extract the whale from the river, while a handful of curious people remained on the bank all night to observe the operation.

The all-white whale had swum nearly halfway to Paris before it was discovered last week and confined in a large lock system.

It remains unclear why it had strayed so far from its natural habitat.

In late May, a gravely-ill orca swam dozens of kilometres up the Seine and died of natural causes after attempts to guide it back to sea failed.

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