Conservationists from various groups and organisations, as well as hundreds of onlookers, are on tenterhooks waiting to see if a beluga whale – normally seen in the Arctic Ocean – manages to swim out of the River Thames and back into the open sea.

The whale, which has been nicknamed Benny, was first spotted yesterday near Gravesend in Kent. At the time it was said to be ‘swimming strongly and feeding’, but since that initial sighting, rescue teams have been on standby to assist the animal if it got into danger.

Ship using the waterway were given instructions to steer clear of the beluga, and members of the public were urged not to take to the water for a closer look.

Julia Cable, national co-ordinator for the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, said: “It’s possible that it lost its way after a navigational error, that it has taken a wrong turn. We haven’t got an idea about the health of the animal.

“We are hoping that the twitchers will be out again this morning and will let us know when they spot it.

“We would have hoped that if it had become stranded, we would have heard about it – the fact that no-one has contacted us yet is perhaps a good sign.”

This is the most-southerly recording of a beluga – which can grow to over six metres in length – in the UK, with the whales last seen three years ago off the coast of Northumberland and Northern Ireland. They are normally found in the icy waters surrounding Greenland, Russia, Canada and Alaska.

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