Monday, January 23, 2006

Animal of the Week January 23, 2006 -- Stupid Tw* the Whale

A momentous weekend for the Thames just gone. First and foremost, yours truly shifted allegiance from the tropical southern hinterland of Kennington to the windblasted northern borough of Islington. No doubt the neighbourhood taxidermist that I pass each morning and evening will provide much inspiration for future animals.

The subject of the second most prominent London Thames story of the weekend was perhaps a little too big for the art of Get Stuffed: this week's animal Hyperoodon ampullatus (northern bottlenose whale). I don't want to focus on Wally the Whale, who sadly died after beaching in Battersea (clearly it was sick), because she (for indeed it was a lady whale) sadly died.

These whales belong to a group known as beaked whales, which are less glamorous than your rorquals, less amusingly monikered than your sperm whales, and less squeaky than your dolphins so less well known than the lot of them; but they are related to dolphins and other toothed whales. Northern bottlenose whales generally live in the north Atlantic (a similar species lives in the south Atlantic, there will be no prizes for guessing what it is called) where they dive over 1000 m to find squid and sea cucumbers to eat.

Back in the day, northern bottlenose whales were regularly targetted by whalers because of two ill advised habits: swimming sluggishly around large vessels and a tendency for the pod to gather around to help injured family members -- Doh! Fortunately, they are still relatively common; although not in the Thames.

The UK's media had a field day when one bottlenose whale swam into central London this weekend, and the nation is now in a state of mourning for "Wally the Whale". Predictably, the tabloid press chose a facile alliterative name for the doomed cetacean, and although there is a nice hint at the foolishness of a marine creature landing in Battersea, I wish people would be a little more inventive. Should this happen again, I propose calling the creature Bloody Stupid Tw* the Whale.


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