Thames whale died of dehydration and accessories damage

The whale that strayed into the River Thames last week died of a combination of severe dehydration, muscle damage and kidney failure, scientists said Wednesday. The female northern bottlenose whale died during a rescue operation to transport it to sea on a salvage barge just seconds before marine mammal experts were to euthanize it. "When I was actually drawing the lethal injection, she died," said Paul Jepson, a veterinary pathologist with the Zoological Society of London, which released the autopsy results at a news conference Wednesday.

The examination was conducted by Jepson, who has led government-funded research on why whales have become stranded on British shores, the society said.

There appeared to be no physical explanation for the 19-foot (6-meter) whale's trip up the Thames, Jepson said, so experts believe she was using her instincts to try to find her way home.

"Some scientists have speculated that northern bottlenose whales ... get into the North Sea by taking a wrong turn at Scotland, and then use their innate sense of direction to go back west," Jepson said. "We think this could be the most likely scenario for the Thames whale."

It was also "very unlikely" that military sonar had anything to do with the whale losing her way, Jepson said.

The whale first appeared in the Thames in central London on Friday. She swam passed the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben as she captivated onlookers crowded along the river's banks.

The whale was dehydrated because she'd been unable to feed on her usual diet of deep water squid, Jepson said, explaining that whales and dolphins obtain water from their food.

Scientists will continue to perform tests to determine if the whale had a bacterial or viral infection.

But Jepson said he believed the whale, which was no older than 11 young in whale years but no longer reliant on her mother for food, was likely a healthy animal before she strayed into the North Sea and then the Thames.

With questions about how long the whale was allowed to remain in the river and how long she was on the rescue boat, scientists and marine mammal rescue experts said they did the best they could.

"This may be the first northern bottlenose whale rescue in history, and there's nothing in the textbook to tell us how long they can stay out of water," Jepson said.

"Really, we all felt that everything that could be done to save the whale had been done," said Becki Lawson, a wildlife veterinarian with the Zoological Society. "The decisions that were made were all made for the animal's welfare."

The British Divers Marine Life Rescue volunteer group spent at least 5,000 pounds (US$9,000; 7,000 euros) on the rescue effort, and is hoping to raise funds for future efforts through the Internet auction of a watering can used to keep the whale's skin wet.

The whale's skeleton has gone to the Natural History Museum, where they will be available to researchers from all over the world, reports the AP.

D.M.