Thames Whale Had Arthritis-Like Disease, Researchers Conclude

A northern bottlenose whale that swam into the River Thames in January before dying had a bone disease similar to human arthritis, scientists said Monday.

Scientists at the Natural History Museum in London have studied the marine mammal's remains for nearly eight months since she died in the murky river during a failed rescue mission.

Richard Sabin, the museum's curator, said the mammal had a painful degenerative joint disease in her neck.

"We found pitting on her atlas vertebra, which joins her spine to her skull," Sabin said in a statement.

An autopsy in January showed the 19-foot-long whale suffered from dehydration, kidney failure and muscle damage. It was deprived from its diet of deep water squid and died a day after being spotted in the river, said veterinarian Paul Jepson, who carried out the autopsy.

The whale became lost in the river after while possibly trying to find her way back to her natural North Atlantic habitat, scientists said.

The bone disease is a preliminary finding and further study will be carried out, Sabin said.

Sabin is continuing to study rare abnormal vertebra found in the animal's upper thoracic region, a press officer at the museum said.

Scientists at the museum dissected the whale, took tissue samples for DNA work and cleaned the bones.

Thousands flocked to the river to see the whale, which swam past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and is the first to be recorded in the capital's river since records began in 1913.

The four-ton whale died within three days of entering the river, scientists said, during a rescue operation to transport her to the sea on a salvage barge.

A red plastic watering can used to moisten the whale's skin during the rescue attempt sold in February for $3,600 following an Internet auction.

"At least she wasn't suffering from pollution," Jepson said.

There is a 12-month waiting list of universities wanting to conduct research on the remains.