Saturday, January 21, 2006

Sad end to magnificent creature

A lost whale that found itself stranded in the River Thames has died. The 18ft (5m) northern bottle-nosed whale was first spotted in the river on Friday and rescuers began an attempt to save it on Saturday morning. But the whale died at about 1900 GMT on Saturday as rescuers transported it on a barge towards deeper water in the Thames Estuary. It was moved after being placed in a special pontoon near Battersea Bridge.

"It has been a helter skelter ride all the way through. It is a sad end to a very long day. Rescuers tried to keep the whale cool as they moved it by barge. Earlier, close to Battersea Bridge, thousands of onlookers applauded as rescuers placed the whale on to a pontoon to move it from shallow water. It was winched on to the Port of London Authority barge where it was laid on an inflatable raft functioning as a "makeshift whale mattress". As the whale was carried upstream towards the estuary a vet administered antibiotics.

Earlier, naturalist and television presenter, Terry Nutkins, said the rescue operation was the wrong thing to do and that the animal needed space. However, he concluded he had "no doubts" the rescue operation had been the best way to try to save the whale. "We had to do it," he told BBC News. "You can't leave a whale stranded in the Thames and we did the best we could."

The whale, which could weigh about four tonnes, was first spotted at on Friday morning by a man on a train and has since attracted massive public and media attention. There were reports of a pod of whales in the Thames estuary earlier in the week, and it was possible that the whale had become separated from this group. It was the first sighting of the endangered species in the Thames since records began nearly a century ago.

There was also an unconfirmed sighting of a whale in Southend in Essex on Friday.

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