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PARIS — France’s emergency services are in a race against time to save a beluga whale that swam into the Seine and was heading south to Paris.

“It’s really puzzling,” Emmanuel Pasco-Viel, the operations coordinator for the l’Eure region in Normandy, told NBC News on Thursday.

Pasco-Vill, who monitors beluga whales, an endangered species better suited to frozen Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, was first spotted on Tuesday.

He added that firefighters, police and military personnel have been sent along with the Coast Guard to help guide the whales back to their natural saltwater habitat.

“We have a helicopter flying over the water to help us track the belugas,” he said. “Even using drones. We’ll decide what’s the best way to help the beluga and how to guide it back to sea.”

He added that the creature had been “quiet for three or four hours on Wednesday and I was able to watch it from the boat when it surfaced to breathe.”

He said locals had been warned to stay away from the beluga so as not to further stress it.

Lamia Esemralli, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is helping with rescue efforts, said they were concerned because the whale was “very thin”.

“If we don’t feed him fast, there’s no hope,” she said. “He will die.”

She added that they were trying to lure mammals back to the mouth of the Seine with fresh fish.

“If we just drove it out of the Seine into the sea, its chances of survival are slim,” she said, adding that scientists will try to get DNA samples to determine the whale’s origin – possibly Canada, Norway or Russia . Once that was established, she said she hoped they could fly him home.

Belugas are easily identifiable by their white skin and bulbous head, and they typically grow between 13 and 20 feet in length, according to the National Oceanic Administration, which also notes that they are sociable and friendly creatures, often found in pods. middle travel. Lonely people, however, sometimes venture farther south, where they can temporarily survive in fresh water.

It’s unclear how the beluga ended up in the Seine, whose polluted waters and heavy river traffic add an additional threat to the whale’s prospects.

“How it got there is a complete mystery,” said Liz Sandeman, co-founder of Marine Connection, a British marine wildlife conservation group that is helping to inform French authorities.

“You just don’t expect to see beluga whales around European capitals,” she added.

“This beluga was far from home,” she said. “It’s dehydrated, it’s not really eating, and it’s too southern.”

She added that “there is another lone beluga in Norway” but “even that is too south”.

Pascoe-Ville added that in the past three months, “three separate incidents of mammals leaving the ocean have been detected in French rivers”.

In May, an orca died in the Seine after a drone was used to make whale sounds but failed to lure it back to sea. It was later found to have mucormycosis, a fungal disease that starts on the skin before attacking vital organs.

Then, in June, a 33-foot minke whale was spotted in the Seine, but it returned to the sea after a brief stint in the river.

Sandman said sightings of whales, dolphins and walruses across Europe are likely to become more common given the onset of climate change.

“As the ice melts, animals are able to access places that previously could only be reached once or twice a year. Now animals are finding new locations and farther waters. Migration patterns are changing. Climate change isn’t everything, but it will certainly be make an impact,” she said.

Nancy Ing reported from Paris, and Leila Sackur from London.

Associated Press contributed.

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