Quantcast

Beluga Whale in River Thames 'Very Lost and Quite Possibly in Trouble'

Animals

Close-up of beluga whale swimming in water. Graham Swain / EyeEm / Getty Images

Beluga whales are normally found in icy Arctic and subarctic waters. So onlookers were undoubtedly surprised to spot one of the distinctive white whales swimming very far south in the UK's River Thames.

Ecologist and ornithologist Dave Andrews first posted footage of the unusual sighting onto Twitter on Tuesday and said the whale was feeding around the barges near the town of Gravesend in northwest Kent.



"Can't believe I'm writing this, no joke - BELUGA in the Thames off Coalhouse Fort," he wrote.

At first, it was unclear that the animal was actually a beluga, but Richard Sabin, curator of marine mammals at the Natural History Museum confirmed the species.

"The latest set of images and videos I've seen suggest very strongly that this is a beluga whale, Delphinapterus leucas," he said in a museum blog post. "The white body color, absence of a prominent dorsal fin, bulbous forehead and general swimming motion all suggest this very strongly."

Belugas can be found in Russia, Alaska, Canada, West Greenland and Svalbard, but they have swum far from their usual habitats before. They've been recorded as vagrant at Japan, New Jersey, Washington state, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Ireland, Scotland, France, the Netherlands and Denmark, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

But this is the first time a beluga has been spotted in the River Thames, The Telegraph reported.

Ornithological consultant Lee Evans told the publication that the whale is "in grave danger."

"It is stuck next to a buoy and hasn't moved for an hour-and-a-half except coming up to breathe. It was a lot more active earlier. It's either stuck or there's something wrong," Evans said.

Evans explained that large winds from the north could have pushed the whale south towards the Thames.

"The whales only ever come to these narrow estuaries when there's something very wrong. The Thames is far too warm for this beluga and I doubt it can feed," he said.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society told BBC News that animal was "obviously very lost and quite possibly in trouble" and is urging the public to give space to the whale.

The conservation group also noted in a Tuesday blog post there have been about 20 previous sightings of beluga whales in the UK, but these were off the coasts of Northumberland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Belugas are listed as "near threatened" by the IUCN due to human activities such as in oil and gas operations, commercial shipping and hunting. Rising temperatures caused by climate change has also melted Arctic ice and opened its waters, increasing the scale and distribution of such human activities in beluga habitats, according to the IUCN.

The World Wildlife Fund also says that climate change has shrunk the extent and thickness of ice cover, which belugas use as a place to feed, to take refuge and to hide from their predators such as orcas.

A 2016 study led by the University of Washington found that the annual migration of some beluga whales in Alaska was altered by sea ice changes in the Arctic.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Two tankers leaving the Tamborine Mountain after being held up for two hours by TM Extinction Rebellion on Dec. 6.

A school in Queensland, Australia sent a note home to parents asking them to send their children with extra water bottles since its water supply has run dry, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Read More Show Less
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a press statement on the European Green Deal at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on Dec. 11, 2019. Xinhua / Zheng Huansong via Getty Images

The European Commission introduced a plan to overhaul the bloc's economy to more sustainable, climate-conscious policies and infrastructure, with the goal of being carbon-neutral by 2050, according to CNBC.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Young activists shout slogans on stage after Greta Thunberg (not in the picture) took part in the plenary session during the COP25 Climate Conference on Dec. 11 in Madrid, Spain. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

Young activists took over and occupied the main stage at the COP25 climate conference in Madrid, Spain Wednesday and demanded world leaders commit to far more ambitious action to address the ecological emergency.

Read More Show Less
A NASA image showing the ozone hole at its maximum extent for 2015. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The Montreal Protocol, a 1987 international treaty prohibiting the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to save the ozone layer, was the first successful multilateral agreement to successfully slow the rate of global warming, according to new research. Now, experts argue that similar measures may lend hope to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
Example of starlings murmuration pictured in Scotland. Tanya Hart / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Police in Wales are in the midst of an unusual investigation: the sudden death of more than 200 starlings.

Read More Show Less