Rescue teams try to save London whale

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Whale being rescued near Battersea Bridge
Crowds watch the rescue
Crowds along the Battersea Bridge watching the whale
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Rescue teams are attempting to save the life of the whale which has been swimming in the London Thames river over the past few days. The northern bottle-nosed whale, which had gotten weaker and weaker, became beached this afternoon. Rescue teams quickly moved the whale onto an inflatable pontoon, keeping the whale in water but with its blowhole above the surface.

Experts then tried to evaluate the condition of the whale by performing ultrasound checks to see how much blubber and blood the whale has, and by taking some blood tests. The breathing rate of the whale was around four inhalations per minute.

The pontoon is currently being towed by a barge slowly downstream.

The British Divers Marine Life Rescue team lead the rescue effort. They hope to be able to release the whale in as deep water as possible, but only if it is in good enough health. If the whale is considered to be in too weak a condition to survive, it may be euthanised, experts have said.

The rescue mission is being filmed by television crews, including from helicopters, and broadcast live onto rolling news channels. Mark Stevens, a member of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue team reported on the situation live on TV using a mobile phone, direct from the scene where he was standing in the water. At one point he asked the BBC to tell their helicopter to fly higher, as the noise made the whale's breathing rate temporarily go up.

The whale sightings have captivated the British public, with spectators lining the banks of the Thames to take photographs and try and spot the whale. However, the inital surprise at seeing the whale soon turned to concern as experts fear for the whale's long term health. Initial plans to transfer the whale from the barge "Crossness" to a deep-sea ship have been abandoned as the condition of the whale deteriorates, but it is still hoped to release the whale in the Thames estuary.

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