On arrival the PLA team and volunteers, including a veterinarian, determined that the animal had sadly already died. Our colleagues at the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme were informed and the body was secured overnight. Over the following couple of days the body was transported downriver so that it could be safely retrieved and a post mortem examination carried out.
The initial findings show that it was a 5.8m male in good nutritional condition, although there was no evidence of recent feeding as the stomach was mostly empty. There were several shallow, superficial parallel cuts across the animal’s back with underlying damage consistent with having been hit by a propeller following ship strike, along with evidence of live stranding. These findings have been interpreted as there having been a non-fatal ship strike followed by live stranding and death shortly afterwards. There were no obvious indications as to why the animal may have travelled so far up the Thames in the first place, such as a pre-existing health issue, but further tests are ongoing and may affect the final conclusion.
This is third whale found in the River Thames in two months, following a humpback whale and sei whale that both stranded in October, so adds to an unusual amount of whale activity in the area, but it can only be speculated as to the reason why at this stage given the very limited amount of information available.
Images credit Gareth Mottram, BDMLR and CSIP-ZSL