RSPCA defends whale rescue

THE RSPCA and rescuers have defended the way they handled a whale that had to be put down after straying hundreds of miles off course into the River Orwell.

By John Howard

THE RSPCA and rescuers have defended the way they handled a whale that had to be put down after straying hundreds of miles off course into the River Orwell.

Rescuers battled in vain to save the six-metre Northern bottlenose - dubbed George - on Friday and it was put to sleep soon after first light on Saturday.

Their efforts were last night criticised by Ben Welham and Shane Wyatt, professional boatmen who work at Fox's Marina, Ipswich, who took the service launch on to the river to see if they could help.

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Mr Welham said: “Two people from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) came aboard the launch because we were able to get close enough to observe the whale.

“Although the BDMLR personnel said that the whale was breathing well they made it clear that their intention was to beach the whale and put it down.

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“Shane and I were concerned that the whale could get tangled up under the quayside so we entered the water and were able to guide the whale towards the deepwater channel and the sea. At this time the whale was breathing well and swimming freely.

“Shortly after the whale started to head for deeper water an RSPCA high-speed inflatable boat arrived, and appeared to ram the whale so strongly that the stern reared up out of the water.

“We feel strongly that the whale should have been given a chance to return to the sea. Although this type of whale mainly eats squid, they also eat fish, and the river is full of mullet at the moment.”

But Trevor Weeks, national co-ordinator of the BDMLR, said: “We were criticised for trying to do exactly the opposite with the Thames whale.

“We have on numerous occasions refloated animals back into the wild, we are a registered charity looking after animal welfare.

“An animal that size is almost impossible to control when it is swimming freely and you can put people at serious risk of injury or death.

“It is unfair to criticise us and people are welcome to speak to us directly if they have concerns. This was the correct course of action, and the vets backed it.”

Tim Wass, regional superintendent who was incident commander at the scene, said the organisation's handling had been “textbook” from the moment they arrived.

The RSPCA said its boat did not hit the whale and there were no injuries on the animal.

Mr Wass added: “The whale should be nowhere near the North Sea, let alone the River Orwell.

“By the time it was there, its fate was sealed. They primarily take squid and if they can't, they are dying, the only question is how quickly before they start suffering.”

The whale was the latest in a series which had died after being spotted off the east coast of England. As well as “Wally the Whale” in the Thames Estuary last year, two had arrived off Skegness, Lincolnshire.

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