Rescuers and port officials on Saturday were alongside a whale that has been stranded in London's River Thames for more than a day as concerns grew for the animal. The northern bottle-nosed whale, the first sighted in the river since 1913, was in the water close to London's Albert Bridge. On Friday it had flailed through the murky waters of the Thames passed the Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, watched by hundreds of curious onlookers. The animal disappeared from view around 5:30 p.m. (1730GMT) Friday after diving under the surface of the water in fading light, but was spotted again in the early hours of Saturday struggling against the tide.
"It has moved, but it just keeps coming back with the tide. It's a case of one step forward and one step back," said Martin Garside, of the Port of London Authority. Alan Knight from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue group said the situation was becoming difficult, with low tide due at around noon (1200 GMT) Saturday.
The Port of London Authority has boats ready to be deployed in case the whale becomes stranded in low tide. "In the next five or six hours the tide is dropping. If he is going to strand it will happen in the next few hours," Knight said.
"A whale in the shallow water of the River Thames is like a human lost in the heat of the Sahara desert," said Laila Sadler, scientific officer at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She estimated it could survive only for 24 to 48 hours in a river that has an average depth of between 8 meters (26 feet) and 6 meters (20 feet). "It also seems to be in distress, it has made two seemingly deliberate attempts to beach itself," Sadler said. Witnesses reported seeing injuries to the mammal, claiming its snout was bloodied. Photos also appeared to show damage to one of the whale's eyes and a number of cuts to its torso, though Sadler said these are not uncommon.
Several onlookers jumped into the river's 9 degree Celsius (48 degree Fahrenheit) water Friday after the mammal emerged, splashing to coax it away from shore.
The whale, which is about 17 feet long (5 meters long), is normally seen in the deep northern Atlantic, diving deeply and traveling in pods. They can reach lengths of 8 meters (26 feet), the size of a traditional red double-decker London bus.
When sick, old or injured, whales often get disoriented and swim off from their pod, said Mark Simmonds, science director at Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, although witnesses reported seeing a second whale in a different section of the river Friday.
Last week marine officials said they saw two bottle-nosed whales in northeastern Scotland when the mammals are normally seen in northwestern Scotland. That, coupled with the second sighting Friday, could suggest that something is disrupting the whales, Sadler said. Scientists have said fluctuating ocean temperatures, predators, lack of food and even sonar from ships can send whales into waters that are dangerous for the mammals. "It's extremely rare for one to turn up in a river in the United Kingdom. I suspect that the animal may be in ill health," said Tony Martin, a senior scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, reports the AP. N.U.