A small whale has been freed after it became stranded along the River Thames in south-west London on Sunday evening.
Hundreds gathered at Richmond Lock and Weir after the whale, believed to be a Minke and between three to four metres long, became stuck on the lock’s boat rollers.
Videos showed it being hosed down by a man believed to be a Port of London Authority (PLA) staffer, while a vet performed a check-up at the river’s edge, before the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) arrived at the scene to the cheers of onlookers around 9pm.
Fire crews were also at the scene, along with the British Divers Marine Life Rescue service.
Footage posted from the scene showed the whale finally being freed at about 1am.
Glen Nicolaides from London Fire Brigade told the BBC the whale had been moved to a more ‘stable’ location where it would be assessed to determine the scale of its injuries and whether it could be released.
Rescue teams arrive to Richmond Lock after the whale, believed to be a minke, is spotted
The RNLI were joined by two fire crews and the British Divers Marine Life Rescue
Earlier, a witness said that ‘quite the crowd’ watched as the attempted rescue took place.
Jake Manketo, 20, from Richmond, said: ‘Everyone here is just hoping they get it out.
‘We couldn’t believe our eyes when we first saw the poor fella, not every day something like this happens in Richmond.’
It is believed the whale was first spotted at midday a few miles up the river near Barnes Bridge.
A spokesman for the PLA, which owns and operates the lock, said: ‘At around 7pm on Sunday, a small whale, approximately 3-4m long, believed to be a Minke whale, became stranded at Richmond Lock and Weir.
‘PLA staff have attempted to assist the whale with water along with British Divers Marine Life Rescue.’
Minke whales are the smallest of the great whales, growing to about 10m.
They can usually be found throughout the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Their range extends from the ice edge in the Arctic during the summer to near the equator during winter.
The lock is situated between Teddington and Richmond, comprising of three vertical steel gates suspended from a footbridge.
The desperate rescue operation got under way yesterday after the young whale was found stranded along the River Thames.
A team from the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) was joined by two fire crews and the British Divers Marine Life Rescue to help rescue the aquatic mammal which was first spotted in Richmond Lock, south west London, at around 7.30pm.
Rescue teams successfully moved the infant whale onto an inflatable dinghy used for marine animals just after 10pm and are now assessing its condition.
Hours earlier, crowds of concerned spectators gathered along the river as a vet checked the infant’s vitals and another rescuer hosed the animal down with water after the creature became stuck on the lock’s boat rollers.
The beached whale, which is around 10-13ft long, was spotted earlier in the day swimming a few miles up the river near Barnes Bridge before it became stranded in Richmond.
Spokesperson for the Port of London Authority, Martin Garside, told MailOnline: ‘Rescue teams from the RNLI, the British Divers Marine Life Rescue and the Fire Brigade stabilised the situation, with the rescue teams all working together.
The whale is moved onto an inflatable piece of equipment used to assess marine mammals
‘They have managed to successfully secure the whale inside the purpose-built piece of equipment for marine mammals and the last I heard is that the whale is alive.
‘The advantage of that inflatable equipment is that it will take some of the weight of the animal off the concrete but also it will allow the medics to assess the animal’s condition while they look at all options.
‘It does appear to be a very young animal. Very juvenile.’
Mr Garside added: ‘The lock belongs to the Port of London Authority but there’s a real team effort going on now.
‘We’ve got PLA staff, British Divers and Marine Life Rescue, the London Fire Brigade, medics, the RNLI and the police assisting. The police are there as a matter of precaution, just to keep people away from the whale and from the river and the water’s edge.
‘There’s quite a lot of activity right now. We’re essentially trying to stabilise the situation with the whale so that the marine mammal experts can assess the whale. What is its health like? What is its condition?
Members of staff from the Fire Brigade assist RNLI and the British Divers Marine Life Rescue
Spectators gather near Richmond Lock after the small whale was left stranded in the waters
A man sprays the baby whale with water after it was spotted stranded along the River Thames today
‘Until they’re able to do that and get some light onto it, the situation is fairly unclear.
‘In other words, we don’t really know the health of the whale and the condition of the whale and the age. It’s fairly small and almost certainly a minke.’
In a statement, the Port of London Authority added: ‘At around 7pm on Sunday, a small whale, approximately 3-4m long, believed to be a minke whale, became stranded at Richmond Lock and Weir.
‘PLA staff have attempted to assist the whale with water along with British Divers Marine Life Rescue.
‘The whale is still alive and the Metropolitan Police are working to keep the public away from the water’s edge.’
Earlier yesterday, Richard Frank, who was at the scene in Richmond Lock, said: ‘Seems to be a baby whale stuck by Richmond Lock Bridge… Poor thing. Being looked after by the lock keepers and waiting for experts to arrive.’
He added: ‘Not moving a lot, but honestly no idea. At least someone has arrived who looks like they might know what they’re doing health wise, but with low tide still to come it looks pretty tough to me.’
While another witness wrote on social media: ‘This is one very very lost whale. It’s gone through the whole of London to Richmond Lock.’
A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: ‘Police were called to Richmond Lock shortly before 8pm on Sunday, 9 May to reports of a large crowd gathering.
‘Officers attended to assist with crowd control.’
Crowds of spectators gathered along the river in Richmond Lock after mammal was spotted
The mammal – normally found in deep waters- was spotted floating in the lock yesterday
Rescuers tend to the infant whale as they wait for a team of marine experts to arrive
A woman tends to the baby mammal after it was found stranded in Richmond Lock
Yesterday, footage showed the minke whale thrashing in the waters as rescue teams attempted to move it onto the purpose-built inflatable dinghy.
Minke whales are the smallest members of the great whale family and typically grow between 26-29ft long.
The animals, which are usually found in the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, often swim together in small feeding groups and prefer cooler temperatures.
In February last year, a team of rescuers were sent out to recover a sperm whale that died after getting caught in the Thames estuary.
A small team on a Forth Linesman boat set out to recover the creature as it lay washed up on the Spitend Marshes on the Isle of Sheppey in Swale, Kent.
The British Divers Marine Life Rescue – who had been keeping a close eye on the creature – said it likely died of ‘natural causes’ brought on by starvation, after it appeared underweight and had scarring.
The whale was found stranded and dead just before midday on February 1, the British Divers Marine Life Rescue confirmed.
The whale had appeared confused and was changing direction regularly when swimming around mudflats in north Kent.
Its body was later secured for examination by the Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme as they tried to establish why the ocean-going animal had come into the Thames estuary.
In 2019, a humpback whale, nicknamed Hessy, died in the Thames just 11 days after it was first sighted.
The juvenile female had been travelling back and forth over a stretch of five miles after it was first sighted near Dartford Bridge in Kent before it was found dead by rescuers.
Concerned social media users took to Twitter after the whale was found in the Thames
A detailed postmortem examination later found the mammal was ‘nutritionally compromised’ while experts found a heavy burden of parasites within the humpback’s intestine.
Meanwhile in November 2019, a minke whale was found washed up underneath London’s Battersea Bridge.
The carcass was found underneath the bridge by a Port of London Authority (PLA) patrol boat.
The PLA, who estimated that the whale measured around 26ft (eight metres) long, later moved the whale to one of its facilities in east London where a specialist team at ZSL London Zoo carried out a post-mortem to establish a cause of death.
Earlier that same year, Benny the beluga, who rose to national fame when he was spotted in 2018, was spotted in the River Thames at Gravesend, Kent.
Officials said the animal could have followed the fish which migrate out of the estuary early in the year.