Sometime on Friday 20th January a bottle nosed whale was spotted in the Thames River.
This unusual event caused quite a stir in the capital later that day the 18ft whale
tried to beach itself in the shallow waters by Westminster Bridge.
Volunteers and specialists alike tried to encourage the whale back the way it came
into the deeper parts of the river.
On the Saturday it was thought to have gone back towards the mouth of the Thames.
This assumption was soon rejected when witnesses saw the creature near
Battersea Power Station, seemingly in some distress.
The whale once more tried to beach itself in shallow water.
A team of specialists decided to rescue the creature and a plan was put in
place to transport the whale to deeper waters in the North Sea.
By this time the story and the rescue attempt of the Thames whale was being
shown on news channels worldwide.
The TV screen showed the experts using an inflatable raft to lift the
creature out of the water so vital medical tests could be undertaken,
to see if the whale was healthy enough to go back to the sea.
Shortly after teatime on Saturday the whale started its journey back down
the Thames on a barge carrying the specialised raft.
The creature was attended to by marine experts, scientists and members of the rescue effort.
They attempted to keep it cool by dousing it with water and covered its body with wet sheeting.
I stood on the Thames River bank near Purfleet with a number of other people, all hoping
to catch a glimpse of the bottle nosed whale as the barge continued on its way down river.
A young boy was scanning the river with small binoculars.
Every so often he would see some lights moving on the river and excitedly ask his mum
whether that was the craft carrying the whale. After about twenty minutes a small crowd
had gathered, some with cameras and mobile phones hoping to capture the event.
I spoke with the mother of the child and she explained to me that they had been
there for two hours waiting for the barge to pass.
All of a sudden there was a shout and I watched a red light moving over the far side
of the Thames, then more lights as the escorted vessel came into view.
The boy looked through his binoculars and confirmed that he could see the
yellow inflatable raft at the front of the barge.
His mother passed me the binoculars and I too saw the raft and the domed shape of the whale's body.
People tried taking pictures as the barge passed on the dark, murky waters.
The young boy ran off down the bank and I bade his mother farewell.
I looked out to see the lights of the craft diminishing and whispered good luck.
Somewhere around ten that night I saw the headline on the rolling news broadcast;
Thames Whale Has Died. I felt a wave of sadness both for me but more for that
young lad running excitedly down the towpath.
The reporters delivering up to the minute bulletins had been aware that the
rescue attempt could fail all along and they had voiced these concerns at
There was a certain feeling of inevitability about the creature's death and I
began to ask the question whether we were right to intervene.
Did we blunder in with good intentions but ultimately prolong the whales suffering
during its last hours?
The bottle nosed whale was later identified as an adolescent female but as to
why it swam up the Thames is the subject of much speculation.
It has been suggested that shipping noises, drilling, and extensive use of
sonar could have confused the unfortunate creature.
Perhaps she swam up river expecting to find another whale or a whole pod.
Maybe she knew she was dying and decided to strand herself purposely and wait
for nature to take its course.
A lot of questions arise from this unusual event but I am left of the
opinion that on this occasion we should have left well alone.
We don't interfere when events take a turn for the worst in the wild;
we adhere to strict guidelines just to observe and not intervene, so
why did we choose to ignore these when the wild crept up the Thames and onto our doorstep?
One more unfortunate occurrence, which reflects the current cynicism
in society today, was the three hundred pound parking fine issued to the rescue team
for overstaying their permitted parking time.
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