A young minke whale was lost far from home Monday, trapped in the Thames River upstream of London landmarks after it escaped from rescuers overnight. Maritime authorities were trying to recapture the whale so they could relocate it to safer waters.
Crews had worked for hours before being able to free the whale early Monday from a perilous stranding on a lock near Richmond in southwest London. But as the calf was being taken for further health checks on an inflatable pontoon, it slipped back into the water.
“We are in uncharted territory. This animal is very, very lost,” said Port of London Authority spokesperson Martin Garside. “It’s like seeing a camel at the North Pole.”
Garside said the whale was trapped without food between the locks at Richmond and Teddington. He said a whale had never been seen this far up the Thames before, 95 miles from its mouth, with the sheer distance making the whale's route back to safety extremely difficult.
The whale, which measured about four meters (13 feet) long, was first seen lying on the lock’s boat rollers around 7 p.m. Sunday. Hundreds of people gathered along the banks of the Thames to watch the rescue operation as night fell. The area is known for wide tidal swings that easily reach over 5.5 meters (18 feet) high.
Port staff were joined by firefighters, coast guard members and marine animal rescue divers.
Minke whales, which are more typically found in the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, can grow to a size of nine meters (30 feet).
Meanwhile, in Spain, a marine wildlife group was working to make sure that a gray whale found near Spain’s northeastern Mediterranean coast, far from its usual northern Pacific migration routes, does not get stranded.
Maritime rescuers, firefighters and other authorities worked with conservationists over the weekend to keep a whale nicknamed Wally from venturing into shallow water and ports near Barcelona.
The maritime group said the whale entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar and has been spotted since March in the vicinity of Morocco, Algeria, Italy and France.
In an aerial video released by the group, the whale could be seen only meters (yards) away from a seawall near one of Barcelona’s main beaches.