Reports of the death of the young whale sighted in the Thames River in recent days is very sad, if not totally unexpected.
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. Humpback whale numbers were decimated by whaling during the last century. Protection has seen their numbers slowly recover though they now face other threats such as entanglement in fishing gear. In the Atlantic, humpbacks spend the winter months breeding in the warmer waters of the Caribbean and Cape Verde islands before heading north to feeding grounds in the North Atlantic.
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.
Around the British Isles, humpbacks are more commonly sighted off the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland. Individuals also occasionally turn up elsewhere, including off the Cornish coast.
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