Juvenile minke whale stranded in River Thames

On the afternoon of Sunday 9 May, British Divers Marine Life Rescue was alerted to a video taken of a juvenile minke whale swimming under Barnes Bridge, West London. The Port of London Authority, RNLI and Fire and Rescue Service were notified and a watch was initiated to attempt to find it.

At around 7:30pm the animal was found further upriver in Richmond Lock and stranded in shallow water. BDMLR Medics with specialist equipment were dispatched to the scene along with personnel from the PLA, RNLI and Fire Service to care for the stricken animal while a health assessment was conducted. It was noted to be in poor body condition, which means it has not fed for quite some time. This indicates there is likely to be a serious underlying cause for the young animal to have ended up this way which would seriously compromise its welfare and prognosis.

The animal was put into a set of specially designed whale refloatation pontoons to make it safer for the animal and medic team while veterinary advice was sought from a specialist marine mammal veterinary consultant within BDMLR. Given the poor prognosis for the animal based on its state of health, and location a long way into the Thames, it was decided euthanasia would be in the best interest of the animal’s welfare. Unfortunately, the whale managed to get out of the pontoons while being moved to a safer location. It was tracked for a time before it was lost in the dark at about 2:30am on 10 May. The team stood down at this point to await further sightings in the morning.

At around 10:30am on Monday 10 May, the whale was resighted swimming at Teddington Lock. BDMLR’s Medics are at the scene looking to assess the situation and make a plan for what could potentially be done, if anything, should the whale strand of its own accord again somewhere in this stretch of the river.

The minke whale, is a species commonly found around the UK coast. Instead of teeth it has dense rows of plates hanging from the upper jaw to filter feed on plankton and small fish. Born at around 2.6m long during winter, juveniles are maternally dependent for around four months, after which time they will be approximately 4.5m long. Adults can reach over 8.5m when fully grown.

BDMLR urges people to please stay away from the area to prevent crowds gathering and breaking COVID-19 restrictions, and to certainly avoid entering the water to get near the whale. It is not in good health and will be distressed by people approaching and following it unnecessarily, and may even cause injury should it panic and swim into a wall or get hit by a propellor. Cetaceans are protected from intentional or reckless disturbance under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and from injury under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.

Photos: BDMLR and Port of London Authority.