Following reports of a whale seen in the Thames on Thursday afternoon, the body of a young male humpback whale was later found dead on Saturday 12th October. The 28ft long whale was recovered by a Port of London Authority (PLA) patrol boat. It is extremely rare to see humpback whales in this part of the country and they are usually deep sea feeding animals. According to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) this is the first time a humpback whale has been stranded in the Thames. The last humpback whale found stranded around the UK was back in 2007 at Port Talbot in Wales, and there have only been 12 strandings in total in the past 20 years.
Once the body was recovered a post-mortem examination was carried out as part of DEFRA funded collaborative UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), which is managed by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Post-mortem examination’s give a rare chance to gain vital information about these animals and can provide insight into causes of death, diseases, diet and environmental contaminant levels as well as a number of other aspects of the general health of cetacean populations. With results still in analysis the final cause of death is unclear but it is suspected that the young male died of starvation as its stomach was found to be empty upon examination.
Reasons as to why the humpback whale was swimming in the Thames are unclear, being a young animal it may have become disorientated while searching for food and become stranded in the shallower water. Information gathered throughout the examination will go towards furthering our understanding of these large cetaceans and help improve their conservation status.