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Extremely Rare Sighting of Beluga Whale in River Thames

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Still picture of the beluga breaching from video footage shot by Dave Andrews (@iPterodroma/Twitter)

A beluga whale has been sighted in the River Thames near Gravesend in Kent, UK. 

Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) are normally found within the Arctic circle, and sightings around the UK are 'extremely rare'. Reports from 2014 indicate they have been spotted around the Scottish islands of Orkney and the Hebrides. However, it is not thought they have been sighted as far south as southern England.

The initial report was made by Dave Andrews, an ecologist and ornithologist in a tweet around 11:30am UK time. 'Can't believe I'm writing this, no joke,' said Mr Andrews. 'BELUGA in the Thames off Coalhouse Fort.' Coalhouse Fort is close to East Tilsbury in Essex.

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Although the whale is several thousand miles from its natural habitat, Andrews' continued reports suggest that the whale has been feeding and has remained in a small area for several hours. It did not appear to be in any distress and was not exhibiting any uncharacteristic behaviour.

Julia Cable, national coordinator for the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, which specialises in dealing with lost and stranded marine life, said: 'it is swimming strongly and appears to be feeding, so there is no indication that it unwell or acting strangely. We are not particularly concerned about its welfare apart from the fact that it really shouldn’t be there.'

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Beluga whales are noted for their white colour and rounded heads (Photo: JohnL/Shutterstock)

It is speculated that the whale may have been driven south by the storms which battered the UK's coastline during the last week. Although it currently appears to be in good health, a spokesperson for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said it was 'obviously very lost and quite possibly in trouble.' 

Specialist vets have arrived in the area to monitor the animal's progress. It is hoped that the whale will swim itself back out of the Thames and rejoin its pod without difficulty.

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