Thames whale: Fireworks display postponed to protect Benny the beluga

The mammal was first spotted last month and appears to be 'healthy and in no immediate danger'

Saman Javed
Saturday 20 October 2018 13:28
Beluga whale spotted in River Thames

A fireworks display has been postponed to protect a rare beluga whale who took up residence in the Thames last month.

Dubbed “Benny”, the whale was first spotted in the river in Gravesend, Kent on 25 September and has been seen numerous times by members of the public.

Council officials said yesterday that they had been advised to push back the fireworks event which was planned to take place on 5 November and expected to attract a crowd of 15,000 people, as it would disturb Benny.

Leader of Gravesham Council, David Turner said: “While we are very disappointed at having to postpone the fireworks, we understand the need to keep Benny safe, must take priority. Every effort will be made to reschedule this hugely popular event, but a decision cannot be made now as no one knows how long Benny will remain in residence here.

“Keeping Benny safe has to be our priority while he visits us here in Gravesend, thousands of miles from his usual Arctic habitat. I’m sure everyone, while disappointed by this postponement of the fireworks, will understand.”

Following discussions with the Port of London Authority, Gravesham council said the event will be rearranged once the mammal has left the area, and will be themed around Benny.

Mr Turner said the council has considered alternative locations to hold the event but has been advised that rearranging the display to take place at another site in Gravesend will still disturb the whale.

Residents have been urged to “think twice about holding private firework displays” near the river in Gravesend as disturbing the whale would be in breach of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

The whale was first spotted by ecologist and ornithologist Dave Andrews, who wrote on Twitter: “Can’t believe I’m writing this, no joke – BELUGA in the Thames off Coalhouse Fort”.

The Port of London Authority said the whale appears to be feeding well and is outwardly healthy.

Officials said they cannot predict how long it will remain in the Thames but hope the animal will return home eventually. In the meantime, they have urged river users to steer clear of the whale, so that it does not become distressed.

Beluga whales live near the Arctic and are traditionally found around the coastlines of northern Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska and Canada.

They do occasionally frequent estuaries in their native environment and are not prone to becoming stranded.

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