On the 26th September, a beluga whale drifted up from the Arctic and was found swimming in the river Thames, in Gravesend near Kent. It’s the most southerly sighting of a beluga ever.
Rescue teams from the Port of London Authority (or PLA) are on permanent standby in case the whale, who seems to have lost its way 1500 miles from its natural habitat, gets into any danger. Martin Garside of the PLA said there had been many discussions about rescuing the beluga and ferrying it out to sea, but it would be a very distressing task for the animal. He said it would preferable if it could make its way out to the ocean naturally. Mr Garside also warned: “the many onlookers who circle around in boats, fly drones over the whale’s head and gather in droves along the river banks should leave it in peace”.
This is not the first time a whale has swam up the Thames. In 2006, 2013 and 2016, whales have been washed up into the river but none of them were a beluga. Belugas are the smallest of all whales. They look like large dolphins, reaching 4 metres in length. They are easily recognized by the white colour of their skin and bulbous foreheads (called “melons”). They are also known as ‘the Canaries of the Seas” because of their very distinctive voices.
There is a natural concern about plastic pollution levels in the Thames. Would the beluga eat well, and would it survive? New reports from the 6th October suggest it is ‘foraging normally’ and Martin Garside stated that: ”This whale has stayed in the same spot for more or less six days, which is a relief. Other whales have been in a hurry to get back but this whale has got comfortable.” Most of the whale’s movements are being tracked by experts of the PLA from a boat moored to a barge which causes minimum stress to the whale. It has now been nicknamed Benny the Beluga. As this article is published, Benny appears to be in no hurry to leave the river and return to the sea and experts warn he could stay there for months.
If it still here by spring, and the Thames warms up, Benny could be airlifted from the Thames and flown 1,150 miles to Iceland in an extraordinary “Free Willy-style” rescue mission. We will of course keep you posted.
In the meanwhile, we wish Benny good luck and to stay safe!
By: Elise, Eve and Florence