Dead Porpoise Found in River Thames

Chiswick Lifeboat crew make grim discovery

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Lifeboat crew members at Chiswick RNLI lifeboat station made an unusual discovery on Thursday ( October 27th) when they found a dead porpoise floating in the River Thames . It is highly unusual for a porpoise, which is a sea mammal, to come so far up the river.

The crew had just been stood down after rescuing a capsized canoeist upriver from Hammersmith Bridge, and were back on patrol when they spotted the mammal.

A crew member contacted London Coastguard to alert them to the find, and carefully collected it from the river, before returning to the lifeboat station at Corney Reach Way. Ella du Breuil, volunteer lifeboat crew member with Chiswick RNLI, is also a marine biologist – she identified the mammal and confirmed it was a porpoise.

Andy Mayo, Chiswick RNLI lifeboat helmsman, explained more: ‘We had just finished the rescue at Dover Pier and were coming back downriver when we saw the porpoise floating. It was clearly deceased, which is obviously very sad. We explained what we had found to the Coastguard and they asked us to collect it and bring it back the station, as the body would need to be assessed.’

Porpoises are related to whales and dolphins, although they are distinct from this group due to their shorter beaks and flattened, spade-shaped teeth. Porpoises, divided into six species, live in all oceans, mostly near the shore, so it is quite rare to find one in the River Thames.

Under United Kingdom law, whales, sturgeons and porpoises are ‘royal fish’, and are therefore classed as the personal property of the monarch of the United Kingdom. The law states that if such species are discovered in distress or deceased, the Receiver of Wrecks must be made aware, along with the Natural History Museum.

The carcass of the porpoise was collected from Chiswick RNLI lifeboat station today by a representative from the Zoological Society.

Four years ago there were several reported sightings of a dolphin in the Thames near Chiswick, although it might have been a porpoise. River users had claimed it was following boats. That year the nation was gripped by the plight of a whale which got lost up the Thames but subsequently died. Occasionally sightings of seals have been reported but fish stocks in the river have been depleted by sewage pouring into the river after heavy rains.

October 28, 2011