Icons of England
  • Introduction
  • The Icons
  • Nominations
  • News
  • Learn & Play
  • Your Comments

Thames Whale

901 of 1169 nominations


Thames Whale

Is this an icon?


Thames Whale

Perhaps it came to Westminster to bid a farewell, on the eve of his funeral, to Tony Banks, the man who had been Parliament's most active animal rights campaigner. More scientific theories are that it was chasing a school of fish, or had been confused by Navy sonar devices. But whatever the real reason it ended up in the Thames on Friday 20 January 2006, the 19ft, adolescent female northern bottlenose whale (hyperoodon ampullatus) swam straight into the collective public heart – and into legend.

There have been whale sightings in London before. In the 13th century, one appeared under London Bridge, and in June 1658, diarist John Evelyn wrote about a large whale spotted "betwixt my land abutting on the Thames and Greenwich" (both were killed by onlookers). But the 2006 Thames whale was the first to be sighted in the river since modern records of wildlife began in 1913. The real reason this mammal, which died of convulsions on a barge taking it to North Kent's Shivering Sands, strayed from the Arctic and North Atlantic, will forever remain a mystery.


Your comments

The Northern Bottlenose whale that swam up the Thames River into central London in January 2006 became an international celebrity. The world watched in hopeful anticipation as efforts where made to coax the whale to reverse its direction and to swim back out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Jim Conner

I was one of the rescuers involved in this incident. I had been watching the whale for over 24 hours prior to the rescue attempt being made while we (British Divers Marine Life Rescue www.bdmlr.org.uk) were getting equipment transported to London for the rescue attempt. As in all cases with such intelligent animals we seem to be anthropomorphising them. However, the one thing I know is that we tried our best to save the animal, and that I'll forever remember the incident and the tears I shed on the barge when she died. This whale touched the heart of millions, does this mean she is iconic? I don't know.
Jamie Henn

I was on the London Eye when the barge carrying the unfortunate whale passed under us. It was a moving moment to all of us in the capsule, even more so when we arrived back at our hotel later that evening to hear that it had since died.
John page

View All Comments (4)



I nominate the English weather.