Whale dies during dramatic rescue bid
LONDON (Reuters) The northern bottle-nosed whale that made world headlines when it strayed into the River Thames two days ago died on Saturday as rescuers were trying to rush it to safety aboard a barge.
Rescue teams had hoped the adolescent 18-foot whale could be returned to the open seas but it died suddenly after its health took a turn for the worse.
"I am afraid it had a convulsion and died at 1900 hours," Tony Woodley of British Divers Marine Life Rescue told Reuters.
The whale captured the hearts of the nation during live television coverage of every twist and turn in the saga, and huge crowds lining the river banks burst into applause as the elaborate rescue operation got under way on Saturday afternoon.
It was first time since records began in 1913 that a whale had been seen so far upstream.
As the barge sped towards open waters 40 miles downstream, volunteers poured water onto the whale to keep its skin damp.
But time was always going to be crucial because the whale's body is not designed to bear its own weight and it was feared it might suffocate if kept out of the water too long.
The whale, one of the world's deepest diving mammals that usually travels in groups, triggered international interest when it was first spotted near the Houses of Parliament.
Experts speculated that it was so far from its natural environment because it was either very ill, had got lost chasing food or had been driven from its usual habitat by military testing or loud sonar.
Another northern bottle-nosed whale was seen on Friday in the Thames estuary, and on Saturday the body of a dead harbour porpoise was found upstream at Putney.
Unsuccessful attempts had been made during the night to encourage the Thames whale to swim back downriver.
At one stage it was spotted as far downstream as Greenwich, but it returned upstream to what appeared to be its preferred spot between Chelsea and Albert Bridges.
Although it was the first time a whale had been spotted so far up the river, sightings of seals and dolphins have risen steadily further downstream over the past five years as the water quality has improved.