Porpoise Spotted in Putney

Rare sighting of creature swimming in the Thames

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A porpoise is believed to have been spotted swimming in the Thames near Putney.

Toby Forester, who took a picture of the creature swimming near the embankment, sent it to the Environment Agency who identified it as a harbour porpoise due to its stumpy fin. It is so called because it often ventures up rivers so it is not unusual behaviour for it to be seen 20 miles away from the sea as in this case.

Sightings on Twitter suggested a dolphin was swimming in the river in London, but the Environmental Agency believe the stumpy fin means it is actually a harbour porpoise.

The dead body of a porpoise was washed up near Chiswick in 2011 but there have been few sightings since then.

Porpoises are related to whales and dolphins, although they are distinct from this group due to their shorter beaks and flattened, spade-shaped teeth. Porpoises, divided into six species, live in all oceans, mostly near the shore, so it is quite rare to find one in the River Thames.


putney porpoise

Picture @toby_forester

Under United Kingdom law, whales, sturgeons and porpoises are ‘royal fish’, and are therefore classed as the personal property of the monarch of the United Kingdom. The law states that if such species are discovered in distress or deceased, the Receiver of Wrecks must be made aware, along with the Natural History Museum.

Six years ago there were several reported sightings of a dolphin in the Thames near Chiswick, although it might have been a porpoise. River users had claimed it was following boats. That year the nation was also gripped by the plight of a whale which got lost up the Thames but subsequently died. Occasionally sightings of seals have been reported but fish stocks in the river have been depleted by sewage pouring into the river after heavy rains.

February 19, 2013