At Least One Scientist Wants To ‘Free Willy’ The Thames Beluga To Iceland

I may not be a whale biologist, but my gut feeling is that the Thames is not the ideal place for a whale. I don’t know anything about the ecology of the Thames at all actually, but instinctively I believe to be a home solely for eels and perhaps maybe some species of amphibious rodent. Nevertheless, there is a whale in it, and it is called Benny.

Benny, a 3.5-metre long beluga whale, has been cavorting around the Thames now for at least a fortnight and, according to British Divers Marine Life Rescue, is exhibiting signs that it is eating and living normally.

But wildlife experts are preparing for the eventuality that the whale will have to be removed if it appears to start deteriorating, with marine biologist Dr Chris Parsons telling the UK‘s Sunday Telegraph that they are forming a plan to potentially airlift the whale to Iceland:

In the long term if this animal starts failing, what they could do is move him or her to an interim facility in one of the Sea Life centres in the museum, then move it to the Beluga whale sanctuary. . . The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society are working on Beluga conservation in Iceland. It’s going where the Free Willy whale was for its conservation.

Keiko, the whale that played Willy in Free Willy, was relocated from Oregon in the US to Iceland in 1998, where it was slowly trained to be reintroduced to the wild. Keiko died shortly after being released to the wild.

Parsons believes that conditions in the Thames aren’t sustainable for Benny:

Maybe it’ll be OK over winter, but when it comes into next summer and if there’s yet another heatwave, that will not be great for this animal. The water temperature is too warm. To come into the Thames is really rather odd and of course there are concerns about pollution and whether it would pick up a disease.

The plan outlined to the Telegraph involves picking the whale up in a sling, putting it in a tank, and shipping it off in a plane for the journey to Iceland.

Conversely, British Divers Marine Life Rescue, who are looking after the whale, have said that they are currently not looking into anything of the sort, and are presently waiting to see if it swims back out to sea.