On Sunday 9th May, emergency services were alerted to a juvenile minke whale in the Thames, near Barnes Bridge, West London. The whale had become stuck on boat rollers near Richmond Lock and Weir in south-west London.
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) medics were sent to the scene, along with teams from the Port of London Authority, RNLI and Fire Service, to evaluate the situation and conduct a health assessment on the animal. The whale measured four meters long, was in poor condition and showed signs of malnourishment, indicating that it had not fed for some time.
During the evening, a rescue attempt was made using a specially designed flotation pontoon, allowing a veterinary team to carry out a closer assessment of the whale’s condition. It concluded that given the poor condition of the whale and location in the Thames, euthanasia would be the kindest option. Unfortunately, whilst being moved to a safer location, the whale wriggled free from the pontoons and swam away, being lost in the dark very early on Monday morning.
Photo credit: Julia Cable/BDMLR
A search resumed later on Monday morning and the whale was spotted around Teddington lock. BDMLR medics were once again dispatched to the scene and continued to monitor the whale along with a team from the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP). The minke whale’s condition continued to deteriorate rapidly, it was positioned against a river wall and as the tide dropped, it quickly became beached. During the evening of Monday 10th May, the minke whale was humanely put to sleep.
A necropsy will be carried out by CSIP to investigate why this young whale came to be in such poor condition in the Thames. Dan Jarvis, Welfare Development and Field Support Officer for the BDMLR said “With stranded cetaceans, it’s for a very good reason they’ve come ashore. Sometimes it is by accident, they do get stranded, but usually, sadly it is the case that they’re already seriously ill or badly injured. And there’s not a great deal we can do in that situation.”
Minke whales are the smallest of the rorqual whales and the most abundant in European waters, and are very commonly seen around the UK coast. They grow to a maximum of 10m, being born at around 2.6m and juveniles are roughly 4.5m when they leave their mothers at around four months old. Typically, minke whales are seen on their own or in small groups of 2-3 individuals.
It is not known how, or why, the whale ended up in the River Thames. Although the Thames is home to a lot more wildlife than people assume, it is not a good place for minke whales. Fish, harbour porpoise, common and grey seals all use this estuary and there have been whales seen here previously, such as Benny the beluga in 2018. Possible reasons this whale became stranded in the Thames include injury or illness, causing it to become disorientated, human disturbance such as noise pollution or it may have been chasing food. The necropsy carried out by CSIP, will hopefully give better understanding as to the reason why this unfortunate minke whale met a sad end in the River Thames.
Photo credit: Julia Cable/BDMLR