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Hessy the River Thames Humpback whale 'may have been hit by ship'

The body of a humpback whale which died after swimming into the Thames Estuary has been removed by marine vessels.

A team from the Port of London Authority (PLA) managed to get a rope around the sea creature and lift it from the water at Denton Wharf in Gravesend.

Hessy the Humpback was lifted by port authorities in Gravesend after being towed from Greenhithe. Photo Credit: Steve Potter
Hessy the Humpback was lifted by port authorities in Gravesend after being towed from Greenhithe. Photo Credit: Steve Potter

Initial examinations from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have confirmed the humpback whale is a juvenile female.

They also found a large wound indicative of a ship strike.

But it is is currently unknown whether this was inflicted before or after the whale’s death.

Dubbed Hessy the Humpback, the 27 foot mammal surfaced just after midnight on Monday between Crayford Ness and Dartford.

Martin Garside, from the PLA, confirmed the marine mammal was recovered "more or less underneath the Dartford Bridge on the Essex side".

It was then gently towed back to the wharf by two PLA patrol boats (Kew and Easthaven) which the assistance of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in Gravesend.

The operation took three and a half hours, he explained, as the team were keen to preserve the creature's body.

"It was bizarre," he said. "I've got a ten metre whale in front of me with cars whizzing above."

The operation to tow Hessy back to shore took more than three and a half hours. Picture: Steve Potter
The operation to tow Hessy back to shore took more than three and a half hours. Picture: Steve Potter

Martin and the team were deeply saddened to learn of the death of the Humpback but said "one small positive" could be taken away.

"This will provide us with the opportunity to learn more about them. They have lived here longer than us," he added.

Alan Carr, Gravesend RNLI volunteer lifeboat press officer, confirmed the whale had been successfully lifted to the PLA Wharf in Dention.

"We assisted the PLA last night with the securing of the Whale near Greenhithe so the PLA harbour launch could bring it back to Denton," he said.

"It was deemed a danger to people who were on the shore who may have tried to get to the whale and also to shipping so that is why we assisted."

Hessy is estimated to be a 27 foot juvenile Picture: Steve Potter
Hessy is estimated to be a 27 foot juvenile Picture: Steve Potter

The whale was later up from Denton Wharf by a ZSL crew shortly after midday.

Scientists will now take it for tests to establish a cause of death and find out why it was swimming in the Thames.

Rob Deaville, ZSL's UK Cetacean strandings investigation programme (CSIP) project manager said it was too early to say what may have happened.

He said: "ZSL experts are working with colleagues from Port of London Authority to carry out the post-mortem of the deceased humpback whale that was found in the Thames near Greenhithe yesterday evening.

"From initial examinations ZSL can confirm the humpback whale is a juvenile female and has a large wound indicative of a ship strike, but it is currently unknown whether this was inflicted before or after the whale’s death.

"ZSL’s CSIP team will be carrying out the post-mortem this evening to learn more about the reasons for the whale’s death and why it entered the Thames.

Humpback whales are relatively infrequent around the UK coast, with an average of one to two a year.

Although this is the fifth humpback whale to be recorded stranded in the UK so far this year by the CSIP.

Two other humpback whales have previously been recorded in the Thames and wider Estuary region, both of which unfortunately died.

One was also found under the Dartford Bridge on September 12, 2009 and another found floating off Sheerness on March 24, 2013.

Wildlife charity, Whale and Dolphin Conservation were also saddened to hear of the whale's death which they say was 'totally unexpected'.

Humpbacks are more commonly sighted off the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland and it is rare to see them appear in the Thames.

The group said: "There was always the possibility that the humpback had come up the Thames because he or she was lost or ill.

"Sadly, thousands of whales and dolphins and porpoises die on shores across the globe every year, some through natural causes such as disease, disorientation, and some due to human activity such as loud underwater noise pollution from military activity or oil exploration.

"The lost of a whale like this is always upsetting not least because whales help offset climate change.

"However, younger whales don’t always migrate for the first few years so it’s not known if he/she has been in the area for a while or perhaps is undertaking a first migration and has managed to drift well off-course."

Last year Benny the Beluga was another unexpected visitor to north Kent's waterways.

The Arctic explorer became a tourist attraction before disappearing from the river in May, eight months after first being spotted.

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