Despite the coordinated rescue effort by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), The London Metropolitan Police, Fire Brigade, the Port of London Authority, the RNLI, and numerous volunteers, the northern bottlenose whale died just after 7pm on Saturday.
The large whale was spotted for the first time in the Thames estuary on Thursday 19th January. During Friday it continued to swim up the estuary towards central London, where crowds gathered to see it by the Houses of Parliament. After having spent almost two days in the river in Central London, travelling up to Battersea, the distressed whale tried to beach itself, which allowed the veterinarians and rescuers to take medical tests and attach an inflatable pontoon to the 17-foot-long animal whilst Londoners crowded the riverbanks to watch the drama unfold.
After midday on Saturday, vet Paul Jepson from the Zoological Society of London examined the whale and it was decided that the whale was to be lifted with a crane to the vessel MV Crossness for further examination and possible release. During the late afternoon The MV Crossness travelled towards the Margate area but during the journey the whale’s condition took a downturn due to the animal being out of the water and therefore not being supported in its natural environment. The whale’s health continued to worsen, and at 7pm it was confirmed that the whale had suffered a series of convulsions and died.
Experienced vets from the Zoological Society of London are carrying out a postmortem examination on the animal and the results will be available later this week.
The northern bottlenose whale usually lives in deep-sea canyons in the cold temperate seas of the northern North Atlantic. Greatest numbers occur around Svalbard, Iceland, the Faroes and northern Norway, but the species also occurs off northern Scotland and the South-west Approaches of the Channel and Bay of Biscay. The species feeds mainly upon squid, species not typically found in the river Thames!
The sighting of another individual off Southend-on-Sea suggests that the Thames whale may have been part of a larger group, and in fact there was a report of two northern bottlenose whales off Aberdeen early last week (species identity to be confirmed).
The last record of a northern bottlenose whale in the Thames Estuary was at Mucking in Essex in October 1916. This current sighting is the first record of the species within the river itself, however.