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A beluga whale has been spotted in the Siene

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A Beluga whale, which usually lives in arctic and subarctic waters, has been spotted in the Seine River heading toward Paris. Protected species is thousands of miles away from its habitat, but it's not the first whale that's mysteriously ended up in the Seine. NPR's Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED NEWSCASTER: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: "Like a phantom, it's the incursion 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 interpreter) It's an impressive animal - all white. That seems very tranquil. He doesn't seem stressed. He comes up for air regularly.

BEARDSLEY: But authorities say the whale is stressed and fleeing any contact. Its normal habitat is off Norway, Russia or Canada.

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

EMMANUEL PASCO-VIEL: We have noticed it now for three days, so we need to have more information about it, especially about its health status. We don't know if its maybe a bit sick or not.

BEARDSLEY: Pasco-Viel says the whale is thin but still very mobile. He says attempts to turn it around so far have failed. The beluga whale, a protected species, usually lives in a colony in arctic waters, though experts say it can temporarily survive in warmer, fresh water. Officials are particularly concerned about the beluga in light of the death of a gravely ill orca which became separated from its pod and swam dozens of miles up the Seine River in June. The killer whale died after attempts to guide it back to sea failed.

Lamya Essemlali with Sea Shepherd, an ocean animal rights group, says they're not waiting to see what happens this time around.

LAMYA ESSEMLALI: (Through interpreter) Our idea is to feed this animal as fast as we can and help him get back to his habitat because if he stays in the Siene, he will certainly die.

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

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.