As 10th anniversary of Thames whale approaches, threats to whales remain

Tuesday, 19 January, 2016

This week will mark the 10th anniversary of the famous Thames whale - but sadly whales still desperately need our help as they face more threats now than at any other time in history.

On Saturday 21 January, 2006, a team of marine mammal medics attempted to rescue a young female northern bottlenose whale which was struggling in the murky waters of the Thames in central London after swimming seriously off course.

A number of trained staff from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) took part in the operation to try to save the whale, which was coordinated by British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and involved several groups, vets and volunteers.

The rescue bid ultimately proved unsuccessful due to the animal’s deteriorating condition, but the operation played out in front of a transfixed global audience of millions.

Although this whale died despite the strenuous efforts to save her, the positive public reaction and will to help one animal was a huge boost for groups like IFAW which work year round all over the world to reduce the threats to whales and promote whale protection.

UK Director of IFAW, Philip Mansbridge, said: “The public reaction to the Thames whale, both in the UK and around the world, was truly overwhelming and the sight of thousands of people of all ages lining the riverbank in central London has become part of modern history.

“While it was desperately sad to lose this particular whale, one heartening aspect of this is that it gave us a platform to highlight the very real threats that all of our planet’s whales are facing. While we and so many others were devastated that the Thames whale didn’t make it, it was a timely reminder that we all need to act quickly if we are to protect whales for future generations. 

“Japan, Iceland and Norway continue to cruelly harpoon whales so their meat can be sold in restaurants and supermarkets. Man-made ocean noise from busy shipping lanes, seismic survey work and pile driving is making it ever harder for whales to navigate, find food and detect mates or predators. In addition, whales suffer slow and painful deaths after getting tangled in fishing gear or receive often fatal injuries in collisions with ships. Climate change poses another threat to their future survival. Ten years after the Thames whale died, whales still need our help.”

Right now, the Japanese whaling fleet is hunting for whales in the Antarctic, despite international opposition, a recent 33-nation governmental demarche (formal diplomatic protest) against Japan’s Antarctic whaling and a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 2014 that Japan’s so-called scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean was illegal and should stop.

IFAW opposes all commercial or so-called scientific whaling and promotes responsible whale watching as a humane alternative, as well as working to reduce other threats.

There are frequent reports of whale strandings, with multiple causes, all over the world. A number of sperm whales have been found to have stranded in the southern North Sea over the last few days – around 15 between the Netherlands and Germany.

Entanglement is a problem for large whales in UK waters as well as elsewhere. At least four minke whales, three humpback whales and one killer whale have become entangled in Scottish waters since June 2015. The killer whale, nicknamed ‘Lulu’ and identified after being photographed 20 years earlier, was one of only nine such animals known to be resident on the west coast of Scotland in a population already under threat due to its small size. Her carcass was found on the island of Tiree on January 3 this year.

Bycatch (accidental capture in fishing nets) of cetaceans is a threat in the North Sea, particularly for the small harbour porpoise. The highest risks come from large numbers of small coastal fishing boats which are not covered by any measures in the EU bycatch regulation.

Occasional photographs of large container ships coming into port with accidentally struck whales attached to their bows make the news, but these are likely to be only a fraction of the number of whales actually hit and killed by large vessels.

For more information about the threats to whales and how to protect them visit

To sign a petition calling for further UK Government action to end commercial whaling visit


For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Clare Sterling at IFAW on +44 (0)20 7587 6708, mobile +44 (0)7917 507717 or email

  About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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Clare Sterling (IFAW UK)
Contact phone:
+44 (0)20 7587 6708
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