Concern grows for whale stranded in Central London.

Concern grows for stranded whale

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Rescuers are growing increasingly concerned for the safety of a seven-tonne whale, stranded in the River Thames in central London.

Riverside crowds gathered throughout the day to watch the 16-18ft (5m) northern bottle-nosed whale swim as far upstream as Albert Bridge by Chelsea.

Experts fear it may become beached when the tide changes, or could be put down overnight to prevent further suffering.

Specialist equipment was being used to try to redirect the animal downstream.

The whale, usually found in deep sea waters, has come within yards of the banks and has crashed into an empty boat causing slight bleeding.

Since darkness fell, the whale's location has become unclear with some reports suggesting it may have made some progress downstream.

Vets are remaining on standby and experts have said it does not appear to be ill, but are concerned it will get weaker and may become beached.

Tony Woodley, of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, which is handling the rescue, said the animal's welfare was the main priority.

He said if attempts to re-direct the whale downstream failed, it might be necessary to put it down to prevent it from suffering further.

'Breathing normally'

The RNLI say it is the first whale rescue on the Thames. A spokesman said three whales were spotted east of the Thames Barrier on Thursday but only one managed to get upstream.

But at 0830 GMT on Friday, a man on a train called in to say he might have been hallucinating, but he had just seen a whale in the Thames.

Alison Shaw of the Marine and Freshwater Conservation Programme at London Zoo, said the northern bottle-nosed whale was usually found in groups of three to 10.

She told the BBC News website: "This is extremely rare in British waters as they are normally found in deep waters in the North Atlantic.

"It is about 16-18ft long, so is relatively mature. It is a very long way from home and we don't know why it has ended up here."

The whales usually weigh about seven tonnes, which will complicate any rescue attempt, experts said.

London Aquarium Curator Paul Hale told the BBC: "Getting that to do anything it doesn't want to do is going to be extremely difficult.

"This is a very active swimming animal and it's not going to go anywhere it doesn't want to go so we have to persuade it to swim back out."

Liz Sandeman, a medic of the Marine Connection, a whale and dolphin protection charity, accompanied the RNLI to examine the animal.

She feared it might be in danger from other boats, or be frightened by the noise.

"The last thing we want to do is stress the animal out," she said.

Over the years dolphins and seals have been spotted in the Thames.

Sperm whales have been seen in the Thames Estuary and porpoises have feasted on fish near Vauxhall Bridge, in central London.

Hyperoodon ampullatus
Adult length: 7-10m (23-33ft)
Weight: 5.8-7.5 tonnes
Diet: Squid, fish
Habitat: Deep offshore waters
Range: Arctic and North Atlantic
Status: Lower risk, conservation dependent, protected since 1977
Distinctive feature: Bulbous forehead
That's were I live...
Here are some pics -

Fears were growing for a whale which swam upstream in the Thames today, reaching central London after losing its way in the North Sea.

It is the first time since 1913 that a northern bottlenose whale has been seen in the Thames, and hundreds of onlookers rushed to the riverside to watch as it progressed past parliament.

The whale swims beneath Westminster bridge.
Photograph: British Divers Marine Life Rescue/PA


Not a sight you see everyday - a whale swimming past the Houses of Parliament.
Photograph: British Divers Marine Life Rescue/PA


The whale becomes temporarily stranded near moored boats, with blood reportedly seen in the water around its tail.
Photograph: Nikolas O'Dell

A member of the public dives into the Thames and tries to help the whale off the riverbank.
Photograph: Nikolas O'Dell
The whale has died.

by IAN GALLAGHER, Mail on Sunday
22nd January 2006

Fading hopes: A rescuer uses a watering can to keep the whale's skin wet on the long journey towards the sea

The whale which transfixed the world after it swam up the Thames died last night after the ambitious rescue attempt to return it to the ocean failed.

Experts said the 18ft northern bottlenose suffered convulsions on board the giant barge that was transporting it from central London.

Earlier, rescuers noticed that the young male - aged between five and eight - was struggling to breathe and that it had become "very stressed".

Inevitably, its death at 7pm, just east of Gravesend, Kent, prompted concern that it should have been put down much earlier to save it from distress.

Yet the rescuers defended their actions, saying: "It was a 50-50 chance. And we wanted to give the whale the chance to swim free."

A post mortem is expected to take place today on board the barge. Further tests will be carried out at London Zoo.

Martin Garside, of the Port of London said: 'We lost the whale at about 7pm. There was a sudden turn for the worse in the minutes before that.

"The medical team on board were constantly monitoring it and it was really struggling with its breathing.

"The vets began contemplating putting the animal to sleep and as they were doing that it died anyway.

"All the experts here are of the belief that to have done what it did in swimming up the Thames, there must have been something physically wrong with it anyway.

"Coupled with that, there was all the stress of spending nearly two days swimming around the Thames and the whole rescue operation, which was a traumatic experience for the animal.'

Just a few hours before it died members of the rescue team had expressed the view that the young male was strong enough to cope in deep waters and put out an appeal for an ocean-going vessel to transport it to open waters off the south coast.

But that request was cancelled minutes later with the news everyone feared. The whale, announced one of the rescuers, had taken a "turn for the worst".

Alan Knight of British Divers Marine Life Rescue said it was having trouble breathing.

"He was clearly very stressed," he added. "The muscles went into spasm which is caused by a build-up of lactic acid when a whale is out of water too long."

As an oxygen-breathing mammal, a healthy whale can survive for several days out of water, if its skin is kept wet and cool. But muscle cramp and organ failure is always a risk.

The news of the animal's death came at the end of a long day in which the hopes of the watching world rose and fell with nervous frequency as the remarkable scenes unfolded.

Rescuer Tony Woodley said: "We always knew there was going to be an awful trade-off between how far we could transfer it and how long it could stay on the boat."

The whale, first spotted in London on Friday morning, had earlier been placed in a pontoon in shallow water near Battersea Bridge before being winched on to the barge.

The rescue will cost the Port of London Authority, which provided the barge, around £100,000.
How the world's media reported this -

The Sunday Times January 22, 2006

Global reaction: World wallows in giant’s plight
Daniel Foggo

THE plight of the stranded whale was flashed around the world yesterday as millions took a keen interest in the desperate attempt to rescue it. The incongruity of a behemoth cruising through the heart of a great city gripped television viewers and stretched newspaper headline writers to the limit.

“Whale of a good show in London”, reported the Los Angeles Times. “New Prince of Whales — thar she blows!” countered the New York Post. Even The New York Times soberly offered: “Mysterious visitor creates new ripples on Thames”.

Unable to resist impressing New Yorkers with its ability to put the whale incident into the context of London’s 2,000 years of colourful history, The New York Times went on: “Of course, London’s great stream is no stranger to the bizarre and fascinating. There have been bodies hung from bridges, seals and porpoises in the water and even a piranha that fell from the sky when a seagull dropped it onto a boat.”

La Vanguardia, the Spanish daily, ran the headline “A whale visits Big Ben” next to a large picture of the animal’s fin cruising past parliament. Other Spanish newspapers used the photograph with similar prominence.

In France a television announcer conceded, with more than a tinge of envy in his voice, that such an impressive marine mammal had never, sadly, been sighted in the Seine .

In Australia, Victoria’s Sunday Herald Sun warned “Whale of a time may end in tears”, presciently foreshadowing yesterday’s unsuccessful rescue.

Susan Blackmore, an expert in the psychology of ideas, explained why the London whale had become an international phenomenon. “There is a very deep affinity between humans and whales because they are one of the very few animals that can imitate,” she said. “They copy each other, which results in the amazing songs they sing underwater, but that ability is very rare in the animal world and we are drawn to it.”

Naomi Rose, who tried to rehabilitate Keiko, a captive killer whale that starred in the Free Willy films, said whales hold an enduring fascination because they are “intelligent and social yet inhabit a world where we are utterly out of our element”.

Among the whaling nations coverage of the London visitor was conspicuous by its absence. The animal’s struggle to regain the safety of open water left Japan and Norway cold.

Kyodo, Japan’s domestic news service, failed to give the whale’s exertions even a mention. In Norway, where whales are also regarded foremost as a source of income, there was no interest in the British obsession with rescuing the lost mammal.

Instead the Aftensposten newspaper concentrated on the travails of Rune Gjeldnes, the Antarctic explorer, who yesterday found that he had lost one of his skis.
The Sunday Times January 22, 2006

London's whale history: We weren’t always quite so sentimental

Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor

THE rescue operation mounted for the Thames whale — and the worldwide sympathy it aroused — highlights a remarkable change of sentiment towards the creatures since the last time such a large one was seen in the Thames more than 40 years ago. On that occasion the whale was declared dangerous and left to die.

Yesterday’s thwarted rescue was masterminded by a small group of volunteers, the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), who came into existence after an epidemic of distemper hit seal colonies in the Wash, off East Anglia, 18 years ago. Since then the charity has quietly got on with the business of saving stranded whales, dolphins and other creatures along Britain’s coasts.

The founder of the group is Alan Knight, a 52-year-old former entrepreneur who made scientific instruments and was involved in the 1988 rescue of seals. For 11 years he ran the organisation on a part-time basis; he now runs it full time and is also involved with rescuing bears in India.

The BDMLR has now built up a network of 3,000 volunteer divers, boat handlers and other experts.

Whales have swum up the Thames to London many times over the years — but never before to such support and sympathy. The last time such a large whale ventured so far upstream was in 1961 when a 16ft minke whale was spotted around Kew Bridge.

On that occasion the creature was regarded as dangerous after overturning a dinghy and drowning a man.

Instead of being rescued, the whale was followed by police launches who warned people to keep clear until it died.

Historically, whales have had an even tougher time. London in the 17th century, for example, was home to a flourishing whaling industry that killed tens of thousands of animals a year simply to extract their oil for lighting.

Barrels of whale oil were placed around the streets and lit each night — winning the city a reputation as one of the best lit in Europe.

Alex Werner, a curator at the Museum of London who has researched London’s whaling history, found that fleets were sent to Greenland, the south Atlantic and the Pacific. “Killing whales brought untold wealth back to the city,” he said.

It meant that when the occasional whale swam up the Thames, Londoners were far less sympathetic than now. One of the earliest sightings was in 1240 when chroniclers recorded that a “beast of prodigious size” had swum under London Bridge. The reaction of the populace was to chase it upstream and harpoon it to death.

On September 2, 1658, another large whale appeared in the aftermath of a great storm. Dr Howell, a chronicler of the time, wrote in his Ancient and Present State of England how “there came up the Thames as far as Greenwich a whale of very great length and bigness”. It, too, was harpooned.

Such records suggest that whales used to appear in the Thames reasonably often in the days before industrial whaling decimated their populations. Nowadays such visits are a rarity — there are just far fewer whales in the oceans.

However, whales have often visited other rivers around Britain. In 2003 the body of a 15ft minke whale was found near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire — about 60 miles from the sea — after it had swum along the Humber and entered the Trent.

The last time there was a similar level of interest in the fate of a stricken whale was in 1997 when a 40ft sperm whale became stranded in the Firth of Forth 10 miles upstream of the road and rail bridges. The creature spent two weeks struggling to find a way out.

Recently rescue groups have begun seeking better ways to respond to such strandings. A report by James Barnett, the BDMLR’s veterinary director, said that with 40 cetaceans — porpoises, dolphins and whales — being stranded each year around Britain, there was a risk that some rescues could prolong their suffering.

Barnett’s view is that animals like the Thames whale would stand a better chance of survival if they could be rehabilitated and restored to health in a dedicated facility.

He concludes that the cost and manpower needed are beyond the BDMLR in its current voluntary form.

A rescue team of medics and vets moved the whale that has been trapped in the River Thames in a bid to take it back out to sea.






Thousands of people line London's bridges to watch the attampted whale rescue.

Whale is delicately lifted onto the barge.
muffin girl
I thought it died?
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