Beluga whale seen again in Thames in ‘astonishingly rare’ event

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A beluga whale spotted in the Thames has been seen for a second day, in what conservationists say is an “astonishingly rare event”.

The rare marine mammal was first seen near Gravesend, Kent, on Tuesday afternoon and appeared to be “swimming strongly” and feeding in the estuary.

Rescue teams were on standby in case the animal, which is normally found thousands of miles away in the Arctic, gets into danger, and have urged people to keep their distance.

Conservationists said they hoped its instincts would soon kick in, and it would head out of the estuary and back north.

Beluga whales can grow up to 20ft in length and are usually at home in the icy waters around Greenland, Svalbard or the Barents Sea.

The British Divers Marine Life Rescue has been monitoring the situation.

The network of volunteer “marine mammal medics” has whale rescue pontoons at the ready that can be used to refloat stranded animals in an effort to move them to safety.

A spokeswoman said the beluga’s visit to the Thames was a “very rare occurrence”, and urged people not to go out in boats to get a close look at the whale, but to watch it from the shore.

The whale was first spotted by ecologist Dave Andrews, who tweeted footage of the white animal.

“Can’t believe I’m writing this, no joke – BELUGA in the Thames off Coalhouse Fort,” he said.

The last reported sighting of beluga in UK waters was in 2015, when two were spotted off the Northumberland coast and one in Northern Ireland.

Among the theories of how the whale ended up in the Thames is that it followed a shoal of fish into the waterway.

Schooling fish such as herring, capelin and cod are among the usual sources of food for the species.

Danny Groves, from the WDC charity, said: “This is a High Arctic species thousands of miles from where it should be in Greenland, Svalbard or the Barents Sea, they are usually associated close to the ice.

“He or she is obviously very lost and quite possibly in trouble.”

Rod Downie, polar chief adviser at WWF, said: “Beluga whales are a species of the icy Arctic – finding one in the tepid Thames is an astonishingly rare event.”

He said he hoped the whale would find its way home safely, but warned the species also faces threats in its Arctic home, including shipping, oil and gas development and loss of sea ice habitat due to climate change.

In 2006, a whale died after it swam up the river into central London despite rescue efforts.

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