Saturday, January 21, 2006

Whale swims up the Thames into London - FRIDAY, JANUARY 20, 2006.

Whale swims up the Thames into London

The Associated Press

LONDON A northern bottlenose whale swam up the River Thames on Friday, passing Parliament and Big Ben, and drawing large crowds of spectators to the banks of the waterway.

As TV stations followed the rare spectacle with live coverage, the mammal wandered into shallow water near the muddy banks of the tidal waterway, and several people jumped into the cold River Thames to coax it away from shore.

''I saw it blow. It was a spout of water which sparkled in the air,'' witness Tom Howard-Vyne said. ''It was an amazing sight.''

The whale was swimming about 40 miles (60 kilometers) from the mouth of the river on the North Sea.

''The fact that it is swimming upstream is not a good sign. The whale must be confused or ill,'' said Alison Shaw, a manager of the Zoological Society of London, Marine & Freshwater Conservation Program.

Such whales are generally accustomed to swimming in deep ocean waters, she said.

It was the first time a northern bottlenose was sighted in the Thames since the Natural History Museum began recording such sightings in 1913, museum zoologist Richard Sabin said.

A minke whale was sighted in the Thames about six years ago, but not as far downstream, the museum said.

At least twice on Friday, the northern bottlenose appeared to get stuck in shallow water in the Thames, and people ran along the shoreline in shallow water to try to coax it away from the banks.

Witnesses, riding in boats and walking along the river banks, first spotted the whale near Parliament and said it appeared to be 6 meters (20 feet) long.

Howard-Vyne, who is a spokesman for London Eye, the large Ferris wheel on the southern bank, said he saw the mammal swim under Westminster Bridge, near Big Ben.

Northern bottlenose whales, which can grow up to 8 meters (26 feet) long, are known as curious and social animals, readily approaching boats and normally traveling in groups, according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society's Web site.

The fact that this one was in such an odd spot could mean it was debilitated, said Mark Simmonds, science director at the conservation society.

''When whales turned up in strange places before, they have been old, sick or wounded,'' Simmonds said.

Sabin said northern bottlenose whales rarely swim in water as shallow as the Thames.

''The whale's chances are not particularly good,'' Sabin said. ''We hope it will swim back to sea.''

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