When the beluga comes out to breathe, instead of floating ice, they see green deciduous trees arching over the rock-covered banks. Instead of cracking ice or the many sounds his fellow beluga makes, people are heard shouting: “Il est la!‘, and the click of cameras. Instead of icy sea water, he feels the lukewarm and dark Seine waters around his white body.
On Tuesday, about 70 kilometers from Paris, a beluga was seen in the Seine, a white-toothed whale very similar to a dolphin. “He swam here for hours yesterday,” said Emmanuel Pascoe-Ville of Uri province, who is leading the rescue operation in the village of Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne on Friday afternoon. “Then I saw his head pop every now and then,” he says, pointing to the water in the huge lock behind him. “It was amazing to see such a beautiful white animal of three, maybe four meters long here in the Seine.” The beluga did not appear on Friday afternoon.
Pascoe Viel admired the animal’s grace, but the sight particularly alarmed him. “They cannot live long, far from their natural habitat.” In cooperation with fire brigades and animal protection organizations, the prefecture is therefore trying to transport the beluga to the sea, but there is no perfect way. “The first premise is to guide the animal north with the sounds, but about 200 km from the sea, so the question is how feasible that is. Another option is to surround the animal and take it out to sea, but doing so will damage it.”
With furrowed brows, about a dozen firefighters are busy preparing the boats to feed the beluga, put up bulkheads, and talk to reporters. They are worried, and for good reason: on Thursday it turned out that the beluga is very emaciated and has changes in skin color.
The news has now reached the entire region. Several times an hour, people drive to the sleeping Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne, hoping to catch a glimpse of the animal. Remarkable is the anger of the beluga observers. “It’s time for people to wake up,” says cleaner Alexis Mathy, 29, who lives about a 10-minute drive away. “It’s the second time in a short time that there’s been such an animal in the Seine, it must have something to do with global warming,” he says, referring to the orca that died out a bit in the Seine at the end of May. He was found and eventually died.
Retired kindergarten teacher Veronique Ozan, who has been following the beluga with her husband Jean-Claude since Thursday, says she can’t separate the animal’s arrival from “whatever is happening now.” “With climate change and all that,” explains Jean-Claude. Retired mechanic Thierry Couse, 62, believes the arrival of the beluga shows “how ridiculous we treat animals.”
It is not yet possible to say with certainty whether climate change was the direct cause of the beluga’s extinction in the Seine. It’s also possible that he was confused by unexpected sounds in the water and drifted away – at least it looks like a human is the culprit. Pascoe Viel: “Now we are mainly busy saving the animal, and then scientists will certainly consider the question of how the animal got here.”
A version of this article also appeared in the August 6, 2022 newspaper
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