Thames whale: how did a minke calf get stuck at Richmond Lock part of London river - and why was it put to sleep?

The young whale managed to get stuck 100 miles up the River Thames at Richmond
The whale was stuck for a number of hours (Photo: PA Media)The whale was stuck for a number of hours (Photo: PA Media)
The whale was stuck for a number of hours (Photo: PA Media)

The young minke that became stranded in the River Thames has been put to sleep, following the rescue attempt that took place on Sunday (9 May) evening.

Hundreds of onlookers had gathered at Richmond Lock and Weir to see the rescue attempt in action.

What happened?

The whale, believed to be a minke and between three and four metres long, became stranded along the River Thames in London after getting struck on the lock’s boat rollers.

The Port of London Authority (PLA), which owns and operates the lock, said that the whale had become stuck at around 7pm.

Videos of the scene showed the whale being hosed down by a man believed to be from the PLA, alongside a vet who performed a check up by the river’s edge.

Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) rescuers arrived to help at around 9pm. Also present at the scene were fire crews and the British Divers Marine Life Rescue service.

Speaking to the PA news agency, a witness said that there was “quite the crowd” watching the rescue attempt.

Jake Manketo, 20, from Richmond, said: “Everyone here is just hoping they get it out.

“We couldn’t believe our eyes when we first saw the poor fella, not every day something like this happens in Richmond.”

A spokesperson for the PLA said: “At around 7pm on Sunday, a small whale, approximately three to four metres long, believed to be a minke whale, became stranded at Richmond Lock and Weir.

“PLA staff have attempted to assist the whale with water along with British Divers Marine Life Rescue.”

Footage of the whale showed it finally being freed at around 1am.

Why was the whale put to sleep?

Following the rescue attempt, Glen Nicolaides from London Fire Brigade told the BBC that the whale had been moved to a more “stable” location where it could be assessed to determine the extent of its injuries and whether it could have been released.

At the time Julia Cable, National Coordinator for British Divers Marine Life Rescue, told Sky News: “The nutritional condition of the whale is fairly poor. He or she isn’t nicely rounded like a whale should be, so it’s nutritionally compromised.

“There’s also damage to the pectoral fins, from stranding, and the fin is showing signs that perhaps it was stranded somewhere earlier in the day as well. But it’s now comfortable and the breathing rate is low.”

Unfortunately, it was decided that the whale should be put to sleep as it would not be able to survive on its own in the wild.

Cable said: “The vets are here from London Zoo… they will give the whale a large anaesthetic dose which will put it to sleep.

"The whale shouldn’t feel anything.”

Cable added: “It’s always sad, but we know that putting it back out into the open sea would have been sending it to starve out there.”

She explained that the whale was either still “maternally dependent” or recently weaned, based on its size: “It will be socially dependent, so to be on its own, something has happened.

"It has been separated from either its mother or a group. It’s in a nutritionally poor state, it’s also got injuries from the stranding.

"We know it was stranded for five or seven hours yesterday, so all the time that happens, the organs get damaged as well.”

Cable explained that whales tend to appear in the Thames every year, although live strandings were rare.

She said: “We started off with beluga, then there was a humpback and then there was another minke, then a fin whale turned up. But this is the first in recent years of a live stranding. It’s not common and hopefully we won’t see it again for a while.”

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