I've seen in the news that a live Beluga whale has been identified in a French river (Seine, very busy and polluted, >150 km from the sea), which is particularly rare as no Beluga has been seen around main-land France sea for the last 70 years (ref):

"Marine conservation group Seyya Shepherd France [...] said the whale is likely to need food and help to guide it back toward its natural ocean habitat. “It's condemned to die if it stays in the Seine,” Lamya Essemlali, the group's president, told TF1." The Seine river is very busy and polluted.

Wikipedia says that:

belugas are among the most vocal cetaceans. They use their vocalisations for echolocation, during mating and for communication. They possess a large repertoire, emitting up to 11 different sounds, such as cackles, whistles, trills and squawks.

Wikipedia again also mentions that:

In the summer, they occupy estuaries and the waters of the continental shelf, and, on occasion, they even swim up the rivers. A number of incidents have been reported where groups or individuals have been found hundreds or even thousands of kilometres from the ocean.

Assuming human help would be helpful, is there any previous case of use of sound repellent/attractant to "guide" a Beluga from the river up to the sea? Or would it be just useless in this case?

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    $\begingroup$ Why do you assume it is lost? Belugas habitually navigate extremely shallow and complex coastal waters and manage to find small patches of open water in very dense pack ice, so I think there is good reason to think that it could easily find its way out of the river, if it wanted to. Why did it go up the river in the first place? At least two probable answers: A) there is food, in which case the animal will likely leave by itself after a while, and B) the animal is sick and is looking for a safe place to beach itself, so it doesn't need to spend energy keeping the blowhole above water. $\endgroup$
    – user18
    Aug 5, 2022 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ @JakobTougaard thanks, I edited the post to make it clearer. The newspaper article says "Marine conservation group Seyya Shepherd France [...] said the whale is likely to need food and help to guide it back toward its natural ocean habitat. “It's condemned to die if it stays in the Seine,” Lamya Essemlali, the group's president, told TF1." The Seine river is very busy and polluted. $\endgroup$
    – Noil
    Aug 6, 2022 at 9:30

2 Answers 2


I do not know of an example with a beluga, but there are two contrasting examples with humpbacks.

As a child growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, Humphrey the Humpback whale was quite famous! He ventured up the delta that flows into the San Francisco bay twice(!) and sounds were used (and said to have helped) to get him back out to sea.

At first, they tried to use killer whale sounds or loud banging sounds to scare him back towards the ocean but that did not work. But, when they played sounds of humpbacks towards the ocean, that did help!

The Wikipedia article gives a bit of basic info and links to several news articles.

More recently in 2007, a female humpback and her calf ("Delta and Dawn") did the same thing - went up the Sacramento River all the way to fresh water - and went even further than Humphrey. There is a scientific article about the approaches used for the mother-calf pair and in this case playbacks did not seem to cause a response/help.

Gulland, Frances MD, et al. "Health assessment, antibiotic treatment, and behavioral responses to herding efforts of a cow-calf pair of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Sacramento River Delta, California." Aquatic Mammals 34.2 (2008): 182.


My free Android app DC Dolphin Communicator could be helpful in such situations. One could interact acoustically with the individual and exchange whistles. Maybe one could figure out what the individual is up to, somewhat, and try to protect it. Also government agencies need to protect the individual around the clock. Experts like Dr Vergara could be of assistance.

DC is a proof of concept app to chat with whistle-using cetaceans using underwater whistles. The human user emits whistles by typing their names, and the beluga user emits whistles their natural ways and the app tries to match these with whistles it has in memory, and if there is no match then it gives a name to the whistle, such as x125, and stores it, in real time. The newly acquired whistles can be emitted by the human user.

It has its limitations and it could be improved but it could be used today to interact with any whistle-using cetaceans, and belugas are great whistle users. One would need an inexpensive tablet with a hydrophone for input and a projector transducer (or underwater speaker) for output, with a splitter cable in the audio port of the tablet.

Over a series of trials and errors, a team may be able to notice patterns with associated behavior and come to some hypotheses about whistles and intents, and such hypothesis can be tested in subsequent interactions.

The above describes ad hoc experiments which are different from controlled experimental designs. Because the main goal here is to protect the individual, to learn enough to try to protect it, in a timely manner. The goal is not to publish a peer-reviewed paper.

In a situation such as those with individuals near people that can act dangerously, much care must be taken to keep people at a safe distance. Many cetaceans in such situations have been hurt or killed by people, intentionally or by accident. A few weeks ago, the orca that came in the same river died in a few weeks and it had been shot in the head. The cause of death was not clear.

Someone interested in a more academic setting for using DC, one could learn from Dr Denise Herzing's experience with a somewhat similar device a few years ago, with free Stenella frontalis. Btw, the license for DC forbids its use with individuals in captivity in a commercial or military installation, even if the usage is scientific research (I am thinking of amending the license to allow medical usage).

The app contains details on how to use it. The app's page on Google Play has some too. The documents in gitlab has some.


  • $\begingroup$ I am about to publish a new release that fixes a bug that prevents the frequency data of manually created whistles from being stored in the persistent database. Cetacean created whistles are not affected and are currently saved with their frequency data. $\endgroup$
    – sm1
    Aug 6, 2022 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ As of today, August 8, 2022, the version published on Google Play does save the frequency values of whistles created by human users. $\endgroup$
    – sm1
    Aug 9, 2022 at 0:33
  • $\begingroup$ This is self promotion. Answering the question with a suggested method which does not have a goal of "going to peer review"/proving itself doesn't seem to be a suggestion to get behind. $\endgroup$
    – Chloe
    Aug 18, 2022 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ Answer to @Chloe: 1) Not self promotion; this app was written specifically for helping cetaceans and people working with free cetaceans or in a valid sanctuary, and the app may be of use in cases of individuals that need to be rescued as mentioned in the question, and saying so in an answer is pertinent. 2) The app can be reviewed easily anytime (e.g., in air) and by anyone, although it cannot be used with captive cetaceans in a commercial or military installation; the source code is also accessible. $\endgroup$
    – sm1
    Aug 19, 2022 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ Many individuals that need to be rescued are very close to dying and need us to experiment with new methods in a timely fashion; there are evidence that interactions, two-way signal exchange, do help in some cases, and this needs to be researched further, and an app like this could be an interesting tool and could be opening the door to new experimental design. $\endgroup$
    – sm1
    Aug 19, 2022 at 18:09

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