Battle to Save Thames Whale

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL SIMS;MARK PRIGG

A RESCUE operation was under way this afternoon to save a baby whale which swam up the Thames.

The appearance of the 18ft creature sparked excitement after it was sighted near the Houses of Parliament. Hundreds of people lined the river. At first the northern-bottlenose whale, which is more at home in the depths of the Arctic or Atlantic oceans, seemed fine as it sent spouts of water 20 feet into the air while it fed off a shoal of sprats.

But it soon became tired and confused in the relatively shallow river and repeatedly beached itself at low tide between Westminster Bridge and Battersea Power Station.

Edwin Tynewell of the Atlantic Whale Foundation was seen splashing and waving at the water's edge to try to coax it back into the main channel.

Experts are trying to establish whether it had become separated from its mother while searching for food after another much larger whale was seen off Southend.

Whales have been spotted in the estuary but never as far upstream as central London.

Marine expert Tony Martin said: "Something has to be done to intervene otherwise it won't get out alive."

Bagy Tokhtokh, 35, who runs a stall selling souvenirs on the Embankment, said: "It's the first time I've ever seen a whale. I'm from Mongolia and they're not very common there."

Tom Howard-Vyne, head of communications at the London Eye, said: "I saw it blow, it was a spout of water which sparkled in the air."

"It was on this side of Westminster Bridge and 10 minutes later it was near the House of Commons.

"I think it's being looked after by a lifeboat to make sure it doesn't get disturbed by the shipping in the river.

"It was an amazing sight. We stood open-jawed watching it spout water as it headed up the river.

"I know the London aquarium is next door but you don't expect to see a whale on your doorstep. It was magnificent."

There were fears that it may have injured itself on a submerged object after witnesses spotted blood in the water at one stage.

Experts involved in the operation include those from Marine Connection and the World Society for the Protection of Animals. Police boats were also called into action to help if necessary.

Leah Garces, from the WSPA, said: "It's important to get it back out to sea.

"At the moment we're facing a big challenge to get him to turn round as he is currently heading in the wrong direction."

She said that it was possible the whale had become disorientated and that the next few hours would be vital. The British Divers Marine Life Rescue group is on standby.

Alan Knight of the group said they first received reports of the whale making its way up the Thames yesterday. He said: "About 6pm it went back out again past the barrier and we thought it was gone. …