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The Thames is full of healthy, happy porpoises

A survey in April 2022 found 16 of the aquatic mammals in the river

Written by
Ellie Muir

The news hasn’t been looking too good for the UK’s waters lately, after a load of sewage overflow systems burst into our rivers and seas following flash flooding earlier this week. Last year, we also reported that the Thames is being reshaped by tonnes of dirty wet wipes. Yuck.

But today we have some good fluvial news: the Zoological Society London (ZSL) has found that harbour porpoises are flourishing in the Thames, after returning to the river in recent years.

Who knew that the Thames is now a ‘vital habitat’ for the animals? Pretty good going. The porpoises, aquatic marine mammals that look deceptively similar to dolphins, are native to British waters. The species’ comeback to these waters marks an incredible turning point from when the river was declared ‘ecologically dead’ in 1957. Hooray for the Thames!

Apparently, porpoises were common in the Thames Estuary in the 1800s but its increasing toxicity during the Industrial Revolution drove the wildlife away from the polluted waters. After an impressive clean-up initiative in the latter half of the twentieth century, some life did return to the Thames, but porpoise sightings were still very rare in the 1980s. 

The ZSL performed two surveys to track porpoise presence in the Thames, one in 2015 and another in 2022. Both found the species to be happy and thriving, with 31 total detections during the two surveys, with each one lasting a week. Sixteen were spotted in April 2022. Welcome back, porpoises. We hope it’s not too rank for you down in the water. 

A report from the ZSL states: ‘It seems likely that the high encounter rate observed in the Thames is indicative of the importance of UK estuaries for harbour porpoises in general.’

‘As such, we would recommend further survey work is conducted both in the Thames and in estuaries around the UK.’

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