Hessy the humpback whale's 32ft carcass is hauled from Thames

Hessy the humpback whale’s 32ft carcass is hauled from the Thames – as Orca scientist says ‘malnourished’ sea mammal ‘became disoriented from not feeding and took wrong turn into river’

  • The whale had been travelling back and forth over a five-mile stretch after being first spotted on Sunday
  • Two Port of London Authority boats and one RNLI lifeboat deployed to recover carcass at around 6.30pm 
  • Took around four hours to tow it to the shore before it was picked up by scientists from ZSL this morning  

The 32ft carcass of a humpback whale spotted swimming in the River Thames is now being dissected by scientists amid reports it died after becoming malnourished due to a lack of feeding.  

The magnificent animal, nicknamed Hessy, had been travelling back and forth over a stretch of five miles after it was first sighted near Dartford Bridge in Kent on Sunday, but was found dead at around 5pm yesterday.  

Two Port of London Authority boats and one RNLI lifeboat were deployed to recover the carcass at around 6.30pm and tow it to shore, before it was kept overnight and then winched onto a trailer this morning on its way to dissection. 

The magnificent animal, nicknamed Hessy, had been travelling back and forth over a stretch of five miles after it was first sighted near Dartford Bridge in Kent on Sunday, but was found dead at around 5pm yesterday. It is seen this morning being loaded onto a trailer at Gravesend on its way for dissection by the Zoological Society of London 

Two Port of London Authority boats and one RNLI lifeboat were deployed to recover the carcass at around 6.30pm and tow it to shore, before it was kept overnight and then winched onto a trailer this morning on its way to dissection

 A spokesman for the Port of London authority described the recovery operation last night. He said: ‘We managed to secure the whale to the larger of the boats, the Kew, and then began dragging it. The whale was so big and heavy that the Kew was only able to do one and a half miles an hour’

A spokesman for the Port of London authority said the whale was found underneath the Dartford Crossing. He told MailOnline: ‘We had two Port of London patrol boats – the Kew and the East Haven – plus an RNLI life boat. 

‘We managed to secure the whale to the larger of the boats, the Kew, and then began dragging it. The whale was so big and heavy that the Kew was only able to do one and a half miles an hour.

‘It took us four hours to take it to the Port of London authority facility in Gravesend. It was kept there overnight and ZSL (Zoological Society of London) came and picked it up in the morning.’ 

Rare sightings of the whale had delighted onlookers and whale watchers, who flocked to the banks of the Thames to catch a glimpse of the elusive animal.

Experts say it is likely the juvenile whale made a navigational error and swam up the Thames from the North Sea last week on a spring tide when the water level was at its highest. 

Lucy Babey, head of science at ORCA, believes it may have become disorientated after not getting enough food. 

‘From the photographs and reports, it looks like the whale was malnourished and didn’t have many fat reserves on it, so it clearly hadn’t been feeding properly,’ she told MailOnline. 

‘These animals need big fat reserves for their long migrations when they can travel tens of thousands of miles, and to keep warm in cold water.

‘It was clearly in poor nutritional health, which meant it was disoriented and made a navigational error. It would have died anyway even if it was not in the Thames.

‘Why it hadn’t been feeding properly is what we’ll find out in the autopsy.’ 

 Rare sightings of the whale had delighted onlookers and whale watchers, who flocked to the banks of the Thames to catch a glimpse of the elusive animal

Benny the beluga whale rose to national fame when he was spotted in the River Thames last year.


Experts believe the juvenile whale made a navigational error and swam up the Thames from the North Sea last week on a spring tide when the water level is at its highest

The whale has signs of ‘historic entanglement’ scarring on its dorsal fin but looks unharmed apart from that

Another humpback whale which entered the Thames 10 years ago is known to have died of starvation.

The exact cause of Hessy’s death will be determined following analysis from the Cetacean Strandings Investigations Programme at London Zoo.

It is the fifth humpback whale to be recorded stranded in the UK by the programme. 

HUMPBACK WHALE POPULATIONS AND THEIR THREATS

Humpback whales live in oceans around the world. They travel incredible distances every year and have one of the longest migrations of any mammal on the planet. 

Some populations swim 5,000 miles from tropical breeding grounds to colder, plentiful feeding grounds – this is why it is difficult to estimate population size, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Of the 14 distinct populations, 12 are estimated to number more than 2,000 humpback whales each and two are estimated to number fewer than 2,000. 

Humpback whales live in oceans around the world. They travel incredible distances every year and have one of the longest migrations of any mammal on the planet

Some populations (such as those off eastern and western Australia) are believed to number in excess of 20,000 animals—a remarkable recovery given that the same populations were almost eradicated by whaling almost sixty years ago. 

By contrast, the smallest known population is one which inhabits the Arabian Sea year-round, and may number as few as 80 individuals. 

Threats to humpback whales include decline in food like Krill due to a combination of climate change and industrial-scale fishing.

Humpback whales can become entangled by many different gear types including moorings, traps, pots, or gillnets. 

Once entangled, if they are able to move the gear, the whale may drag and swim with attached gear for long distances, ultimately resulting in fatigue, compromised feeding ability, or severe injury. 

There is evidence to suggest that most humpback whales experience entanglement over the course of their lives, but are often able to shed the gear on their own. 

Inadvertent vessel strikes can injure or kill humpback whales. 

Humpback whales are vulnerable to vessel strikes throughout their range, but the risk is much higher in some coastal areas with heavy ship traffic. 

Underwater noise threatens whale populations, interrupting their normal behaviour and driving them away from areas important to their survival. 

Sound has been shown to increase stress hormones in their system and mask the natural sounds humpback whales require to communicate and locate prey. 

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