The minke whale calf was spotted upriver in London as fears for its survival grew



© Reuters. Rescue workers are working to save a small whale stranded in the Thames. This picture was taken via social media in London, United Kingdom on May 9, 2021. RICHARD FRANK @ RICHARDFRANK / via REUTERS


By Guy Faulconbridge and Hannah McKay

LONDON (Reuters) – A ten-foot injured minke whale calf was seen swimming upriver in the Thames in west London on Monday, just hours after rescuers rushed to save the giant mammal’s life by bringing it back afloat .

A Reuters photographer spotted the whale several miles upstream where it was rescued by a team of rescue workers from the Port of London Authority, the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI), British Divers Marine Life Rescue, the London Fire Brigade and police.

When the whale went the wrong way – away from the sea – there were growing fears about the fate of the injured calf as it struggled to survive in London, hundreds of miles from its natural habitat in the wilderness of the North Atlantic.

“To be honest, he’s out of a river – he has nowhere to go if he doesn’t turn around and swim properly,” said Martin Garside, a spokesman for the Port of London Authority.

The stranded whale was first spotted at Richmond Lock on Sunday evening. The rescuers worked for hours to get it back afloat, then dragged it a mile downstream.

“This whale’s life depends on balance: it’s injured, very young and so far from home,” said Garside.

“This animal comes from the northern North Sea – so it’s hundreds of kilometers where it should be. The whale is a hundred kilometers from the opening to the North Sea in the Thames estuary,” he said. “There is no obvious sign of his mother.”

The minke whale is the smallest of all baleen whales and reaches a length of 8 to 9 meters. The whales prefer cooler temperatures and enjoy a varied diet of krill and school fish, according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Group.

They are not normally found in the Thames and it was not immediately clear why the pygmy calf was so far removed from its normal feeding grounds.

“This whale could be lost or sick or injured in pursuit of its prey,” Danny Groves of Whale and Dolphin Conservation told Reuters.

“Likewise, many whales and dolphins get into trouble because they may have been hit by a ship at sea, injured in fishing nets, drifted off course by loud underwater noise from seismic surveys for oil or gas, or loud underwater sonar from military exercises.

“This poor person is way off course and still faces the struggle to get back to sea,” said Groves.

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Steven Gregory