Taking to Twitter, Andrews shared the video, writing: “Can’t believe I’m writing this, no joke — BELUGA in the Thames off Coalhouse Fort.”
The video has since been viewed over 160,000 times and sparked “River Thames” to trend on Twitter. Throughout the day, Andrews continued to share whale updates and additional video footage, much to the delight of those following the story on social media.
By lunchtime Tuesday, photographers were lining the banks of the Thames, as were locals and others, and the BBC had launched its own live stream of the creature, with some folks giving themselves the afternoon off work just to watch it.
“Nobody tell my boss i’m currently watching a live feed of a river,” tweeted one distracted worker.
“As I live in Gravesend I had no choice today but to literally run to the River Thames to watch the Beluga Whale . . . Winning!” a Kent local tweeted.
“The River Thames beluga whale has reportedly headed back out to sea after discovering how much it costs to rent a one bed in zone 1,” tweeted one user who couldn’t resist using the day’s news to take a swipe at London’s housing market.
As excitement around the beluga sighting peaked, many wondered just how the whale ended up in the Thames. “If this animal is a beluga whale, it is very far from home,” London’s Natural History Museum wrote on Twitter.
“Beluga whales are an Arctic species, often seen in groups. They are rarely seen in U.K. waters,” said Sarah Dolman, a senior policy officer with Whale and Dolphin Conservation.
“Belugas are friendly, sociable and live in family groups. They are known for living long lives and are typically found further north, in Arctic waters,” she said
“People love whales, and an opportunity to see such a beautiful individual is rare,” Dolman said when asked about the level of interest in the creature. “What this animal needs is space. We would encourage people to look from the land if the whale is still close to coast. And boats in the water crowding the whale could cause it a great level of distress.”
Describing the Thames whale as “vulnerable,” Dolman explained that noises from nearby and passing boats may alarm the animal as it attempts to make its way out of the Thames and back home to the Arctic.
Tuesday’s sighting is not the first time a whale has been spotted in the Thames. In January 2006, a northern bottlenose whale caused a splash after being spotted by a man on a train. Within moments of the sighting, crowds gathered along London’s Battersea Bridge to catch a glimpse of the whale. According to Dolman, bottlenose whales, unlike belugas, are usually found in deep waters, so the whale of 2006 found itself in trouble, fast.
Despite the best efforts of rescuers, the 18-foot whale died as those in the water rallied to save it. As day turns into evening here in Britain, many hope that the whale of 2018 will have a much happier ending.