There was plenty of excitement down on the River Thames on Tuesday afternoon, as a magnificent whale was spotted swimming its way up the inland waters towards London. The initial sighting was made near Gravesend in Kent, where passers-by identified a strange moving object as a Beluga Whale. After two days of close monitoring for the whale's safety, it's been seen slowly making the way back towards open water.
What makes this so extraordinary is that this is an Arctic whale which lives in extreme conditions. Their usual habitat only stretches as far as Northern Russia and Greenland so this lost whale is seriously far from home. This is one of the most southerly Beluga whale spottings in history and certainly the No.1 in the UK.
People have taken to social media to name the whale Benny, which seemed to be happily searching for food around the barges near Coalhouse Fort for quite a few hours. Spectators flocked to the banks of the Thames to snap photos and witness this special moment with their own eyes. You can see some of the captured footage below:
Some marine conservation charities and port authorities in the area have been concerned about the quality of food that’s available in the Thames for this Beluga, as well as the cleanliness of the river itself. Because of that, the public have been asked to stay well clear of Benny and avoid being in the water near the whale, in the hope that it’ll work its own way back towards more appropriate habitat. Marine rescue services are staying alert and ready to assist immediately if any problems occur.
One of the more recent whale spottings in the area in 2006 resulted in a young bottle-nosed whale dying after becoming stranded in London, so the situation is being closely monitored to avoid any repeats.
The Beluga Whale is truly fascinating - an extremely intelligent species with very distinct features. Firstly and most obviously, the Beluga is completely white in colour, making them stand out from many other species. This is because of the wintery arctic climate that they need to blend in with. Due to the cold, the whale can have body fat levels of up to 50% which is one of the highest of any animal worldwide.
The most impressive of all features in the Beluga Whale is its echolocation device - a naturally built-in sonar system stored in the Beluga's bulky head. The echolocation for a whale is described as being like ‘eyes for a human being’. They are one of the most vocal of all whales and use their high pitched squeaks to communicate with mates and navigate seas by detecting obstructions.
It appears the whale is using his echolocation effectively as Benny the Beluga makes his way back out to safety...