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Hessy the River Thames Humpback whale dies near Greenhithe

A whale which found itself far from home in the River Thames has died.

Dubbed Hessy the Humpback, the 27 foot mammal surfaced early yesterday between Crayford Ness and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge, Dartford.

A humpback whale, which has been nicknamed 'Hessy', was spotted in The Thames near Dartford. Picture: Simon West
A humpback whale, which has been nicknamed 'Hessy', was spotted in The Thames near Dartford. Picture: Simon West

Mark Stevens, director of British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), confirmed the news to KentOnline last night.

He said he received a call from a member of his team at 4.30pm and had seen a photo of the lifeless creature floating near Greenhithe.

"It will need to be recovered, my guess is by the Port of London Authority as it's a hazard to shipping. I imagine they'll do that first thing tomorrow," he said.

Martin Garside has been monitoring the whale's movements with the team at the Port of London Authority (PLA).

He confirmed this morning the marine mammal was recovered "more or less underneath the Dartford Bridge on the Essex side" following an earlier sighting at 3pm.

When the team located the whale it had not completely beached and was found 'wallowing' on its side, he explained.

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

Two patrol boats (Kew and Easthaven) were then used to gently tow the 27ft specimen back to shore with the assistance of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in Gravesend.

This took over three and a half hours, he explained, as the teams were keen to preserve the creature's body for tests.

Martin and the team were deeply saddened to learn of the death of the Humpback, affectionately dubbed 'Hessy' but said 'one small positive' could be taken away.

"This 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 a PLA wharf in Denton, Gravesend.

"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."

The whale was then picked up from Denton Wharfby a crew from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) shortly after midday to conduct tests to establish a cause of death.

Rob Deaville, ZSL's UK Cetacean strandings investigation programme (CSIP) project manager said it was too early to do more than speculate on why this may have happened.

He confirmed the whale would be moved to a suitable site later this morning where hopefully they will be able to examine it.

He said: "ZSL experts are working with colleagues from Port of London Authority to access the body of the humpback whale this morning, to carry out an examination and sampling exercise, in an effort to learn more about the reasons for the whales death and why it entered the Thames.

"Humpback whales are relatively infrequently recorded stranded around the UK coast, with an average of 1-2 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.

Read more: All the latest news from Dartford

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