A Beluga whale was seen swimming in the River Thames, near Gravesend in Kent on Tuesday afternoon, shocking conservation experts and spectators alike.
The mammal was first spotted by ecologist and ornithologist, Dave Andrews, who posted a video on Twitter which immediately went viral, as reported by the BBC.
People were both shocked and mesmerized as they saw the Beluga ‘frolicking’ in the river. The species is known for living in the Arctic and sub-Arctic, and experts couldn’t tell how the mammal ended up in the Thames.
A conservation expert called the sighting “very, very unusual”, while Lucy Babey, head of science and conservation at ORCA, told the Mirror that the spectacle was “the most southerly sighting of a beluga ever seen around these shores”.
The British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) declared the sighting a matter of “concern as it’s not a common species,” however, they said that the whale was found to be swimming strongly and feeding, as reported by Sky News.
Andrews also posted a series of tweets informing the public about the exact location of the whale as well as its activities. But as much as people expressed their excitement about the sighting, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDC) suspected the whale to be lost and possibly distressed because belugas usually travel in pods.
As soon as the video went viral, crowds of photographers and spectators started gathering on the banks of the river to get a glimpse of the spectacular creature. However, considering that the whale must have been distressed, the BDMLR urged the public to keep a safe distance from the creature and “to watch it from the shore,” per the BBC report.
Adult beluga whales are easily distinguishable from other species because of their often-pure white skin, lack of dorsal fins, their broad, round heads and their small sizes. Typically, belugas inhabit waters off the shores of Russia, Greenland, Canada, Norway and the United States (Alaska).
Although the occurrence is very rare, this is not the first time that a whale has been spotted in a river. Earlier this year, the Guardian reported about some killer whales, which were thought to be hunting seals or porpoises, sighted in Scotland’s River Clyde.
Over a decade ago, a bottlenose whale swam up the River Thames after it lost its way in the North Sea in search of food. Experts initially reported that the mammal seemed to be quite healthy and relaxed, per the Guardian report, but after hours of struggle, it died because of distress and dehydration.
Similarly, a giant humpback whale was spotted swimming in New York City’s Hudson River two years ago. According to a CBS News report, the whale frolicked in the river for nearly a week.