London Delays Work On New $7.5 Billion Thames Tunnel Because Of Benny The Beluga Whale

Beluga Whale tail in the water
Luca Galuzzi / Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-2.5

Engineers in London have been forced to suspend work on a £6 billion ($7.5 billion) new tunnel under the River Thames because a beluga whale has taken up residence in the river.

The new 2.3-mile-long tunnel is due to connect the British counties of Kent and Essex to the East of the City of London. It is expected to relieve traffic congestion on London’s existing river crossings.

Work is still at an early stage, with project directors still carrying out tests and surveys ahead of formal planning permission. Given that the project is being spearheaded by Highways England, the public body responsible for the road network in the country, this is expected to be a formality.

But the presence of a whale in the Thames has forced them to increase the time they have allocated to these tests, with work having to be carried out in phases to avoid disturbing the whale, according to a report in the Daily Mail.

The beluga whale, which has been given the name Benny, was first spotted in the Thames back in September. It is the first time that a beluga has been seen in the Thames since 1913.

Beluga whales can grow to be as long as 5.5 meters in length and usually live in colder waters off the coasts of Alaska, Canada, and Russia.

Beluga Whale close up
  Metaphorical Platypus / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

Environmentalists have been working hard to keep him safe, which proved to be a tough job when he was first spotted after sightseers flocked to the area around the north Kent town of Gravesend, hoping to catch a sight of them. Requests had to be made to tourists and locals not to hire boats and take to the water to try and get a closer look.

Benny was originally expected to remain in the Thames for no more than a few days, but three months on and he is still there, with the latest spotting, again in Gravesend, only last week.

While public interest in Benny has receded, he is still at risk from the numerous vessels which make their way up and down the Thames on a daily basis, and environmentalists continue to work around the clock to try and avoid disturbing him. Although he appears to adapted fairly well to his new environment, they are keen to ensure he doesn’t succumb to the same fate met by a young bottlenose whale that found its way into the Thames in 2006 and sadly didn’t survive.

But Benny is still showing no signs of leaving, which is now beginning to cause major disruption to those planning London’s latest tunnel.