Chiswick Lifeboat Crew Join Minke Whale Rescue Effort

Baby whale was trapped in the Thames for over two days

Chiswick crew working with BDMLRChiswick crew working with BDMLR

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The Chiswick RNLI Lifeboat crew have been called out to assist in the ultimately unsuccessful rescue of a whale in distress on the River Thames. It is fifteen years since they have had an incident of this nature.

The baby Minke whale was spotted by Barnes Railway Bridge on Sunday morning (9 May) at around 11am and had to be helped out of shallow water under the bridge. Later that day the Chiswick night shift crew received the call at 8.15pm about the whale in distress at Richmond Lock.

The whale was beached on the boat rollers at Richmond half tide lock. Two hours either side of high tide boats can pass through without using the lock but small, unpowered craft can use the boat rollers.

The lock keeper was already there hosing down the whale. The lifeboat crew were soon joined by specialists from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and a little later by the London Fire Brigade fireboat.

BDMLR confirmed it was a young Minke whale and assessed its condition. Watched by a large crowd of onlookers, crew from the three agencies worked together to manoeuvre the creature onto BDMLR’s inflatable cradle.

The lifeboat towed the cradle half a mile downstream as far as Isleworth where the whale freed itself. The exhausted crew returned to station in the early hours of Monday. That afternoon the whale had made its way back up river to Teddington Lock. Unfortunately, it died later that day."

Chiswick RNLI Commander Andy Mayo said, ‘We have many calls for assistance for pets and their owners in the water and occasionally swans but this was a different order of problem. The BDMLR team supervised the difficult rescue with the assistance of three RNLI crew and many firefighters. Although it was left swimming freely, we understand there is still concern about the young whale so far from its natural habitat’.

Chiswick crew assist in preparing BDMLR's inflatable cradle
Chiswick crew assist in preparing BDMLR's inflatable cradle. Picture: RNLI

London Fire Brigarde Station Commander Glen Nicolaides, who was at the scene, said, “This was a very rare and unusual incident. Crews assisted the Coastguard, RNLI and other marine agencies at the scene.

“Our crews were on standby while a marine biologist and vet assessed the condition of the whale. “

It is understood that the health of the whale was assessed to be not very good. A spokesperson for the Port of London Authority said, "To a certain extent all we can do now is let nature take its course. The whale is in quite a predicament, so we’ll have to see.

"It would be fair to say the whale’s life hangs in the balance. Its injuries aren’t massive or obvious but it is compromised in the sense of minor cuts and things.

"In a more general sense it’s in a stressed and weakened situation and isn’t where it should be."

Chiswick RNLI lifeboat station is the second busiest in the UK and Ireland. Since The RNLI search and rescue service on the Thames started in 2002, Chiswick Lifeboat has attended over 3,500 incidents and rescued over 1,750 people. The RNLI is entirely funded by public donations.

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May 14, 2021

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