Posts Tagged ‘Whale


Beluga in the Thames

Have you ever been concentrating on something and had someone outside hammering or mowing the lawn. It gets to a point where you just have to do something; anything. You have to get up shut the window, throw something at the guy; shout some obscenity … whatever. Well it was like that this week. Everytime I tried to focus my thoughts and get things done there was this nagging distraction. THE BELUGA! – the TV news, radio, twitter, emails, the mobile phone … everywhere. How am I supposed to sit at the laptop and prepare presentations with that going on? In the end I got up and drove to Gravesend. I just had to.

I’ve seen Beluga before in what could be termed their natural habitat. They aren’t showmen. No leaping out the water for these cetaceans. I knew all I’d see was a rising lump of lard in the murk of the Thames and that would be it; but I had to scratch the itch.

I’ve seen Gravesend, at distance, from the north wall of the Thames on a twitch I did some 30 years ago; I think it was for a White Winged Tern. It didn’t look salubrious then and, apologies to the people that live there but, nothing had changed. I reluctantly left the car half expecting it to be on bricks upon my return and found the pub from where the Beluga had recently been seen. The view of the river was cluttered with barges, boats blokes in red jackets, fences, stanchions … oh the whole nine yards. Anyways the lump of lard eventually rose in front of the assembled crowd and with a little shuffling of my position up and down the river it showed repeatedly.

Now, I have to say I heard a lot of ill-informed crap being talked about this animal and I did try to put individuals right.

“It’s in difficulty” – NO IT’S NOT. It looks rotund and well fed and it was seen to be feeding well. Someone said it caught a crab well I didn’t see it do that but I did see it lunge and catch a fish.

“It’s in danger” – YES to some extent. The amount of large sea-going traffic on the Thames amazed me. The animal is at risk of a propeller strike. HOWEVER, it is at no more risk than the Harbour Porpoise (see photo) that I also saw in the river today and they are frequently seen in this part of the river – look on the net at the historical sightings on the Sea Watch Foundation ‘latest sightings’ page for this area.

“It should be in deeper water”. NO IT SHOULDN’T. Lots of people I listened to were equating this to the ‘Thames Whale’. The Northern Bottlenose Whale that entered the Thames in January 2006 and died of convulsions as she was being rescued. That was a Ziphid. NBN Whales are deep sea animals that eat squid. There are no squid in the Thames so it could not feed. All cetaceans get their water intake from the food they eat. No food equals no water equals dehydrated hungry confused animal therefore it goes up river rather than down it. Belugas are estuarine animals and are quite at home in shallow water as well as deeper water.

“It shouldn’t be in fresh water” – The Thames is tidal in this area and the water will therefore be brackish. The physiology of these animals allows them to enter brackish water without undue concern.

“It’s lost and is too far south” – Well it’s disassociated from other Belugas for sure but we have had Belugas before in the UK  … just not in the Thames. They have usually been around Scotland or Shetland; more recently in Northumberland and Ireland. However, there’s a population of Beluga close to Tadoussac in the St Lawrence river in Canada. Tadoussac is 48.14 degrees north. London is 51.50 degrees north ie London is closer to the pole than the resident population of Beluga in Canada. So it can survive here. Having said that my guess would be it probably originated from populations around Svalbard on this side of the Atlantic. I think as climate change kicks in we should expect more arctic species occurring here in the UK.

“The Thames is too polluted” – Well yes it is. However Salmon have recently been caught in the Thames and the Harbour Porpoise manage to live in it. In the St Lawrence the pollution is extremely high and when Beluga die there they are treated as toxic waste given the high level of toxins in the cadaver; but they manage to live and thrive in it.

Without doubt there was a lot of interest in this little Beluga and that’s a good thing – the more interest and knowledge there is, the better we all are – by the way I estimated it at 2.5m in length. So maybe not so little. It did have a pinkish grey cast to it so it’s probably a youngish animal rather than an adult. No doubt it will eventually move on but I would tentatively suggest it might be seen here for some time. No reason for that … just a feeling. Certainly the first ‘twitchable’ beluga in the UK.

Just to explain the photo of the Beluga. The animal is facing right. The blowhole can be seen at the extreme right hand side and the dorsal ridge can be seen on the left. The species unlike the Harbour Porpoise pictured doesn’t have a dorsal fin.

Just one last thing. Why do people insist on giving it a name? Benny the Beluga. I don’t think so. It’s not a pet. It’s a wild animal.


A Whale of a time

You would think a very  very showy Cetti’s Warbler, a subtly marked beautiful female Ring Ouzel and sixty odd other species was enough for a mornings bird watching to throw at us? How wrong could I have been?

We were on our tour to Minsmere in Suffolk yesterday and my guests were already pleased with what they had seen. Little did we know there was so much more to come.

Our bird list for the day was escalating quickly but on reaching the sea I scanned the horizon only to find it disappointingly bereft of birds. I scanned again. Was that a dark shape I just saw? Studying the sea closely it reappeared and then went down below the waves again. Although it was a long way out it was definitely a cetacean; a large one at that. It was facing me and looked broad as it surfaced again. I know that shape well. A clear bushy blow discounted Minke. When it turned side on at the next surfacing the stubby fin confirmed we were watching a Humpback; Suffolk’s second ever. We watched it for quite a while and enjoyed the moment. Judging the appearances there may have been another cetacean nearby but of this I remain unsure.

The Stoat chasing a Rabbit almost around our feet during our picnic lunch was a delight to watch; the predator at least having the decency to despatch his quarry out of sight. The day was turning into a ‘mammal day’.

Perhaps for my guests the icing on the cake was the Otter we watched surfacing and surprising the Teal and Wigeon flock. For me … it had to be finding that long winged new-englander lounging offshore. It made my year!


Humpback Whale _MG_1574

Here’s one I photographed earlier!


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Jun 2023


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