On the morning of Saturday 20 April, those around Richmond Lock were greeted by a rare sight: for what is believed to be the first time since 2017 in the area, onlookers saw dolphins in the river Thames. Spotted in previous days, the two have since made their way downstream and quickly accumulated a crowd. 

While these dolphins have clearly managed to survive in the Thames, there are concerns as to the state of the river. Its conditions are far from optimal, as has been made apparent to the public by a recent incident: the Thames’ newest controversy saw a member of the Oxford Boat Race team complain about “poo in the water”; while Cambridge supporters may shrug this off as an excuse following Oxford’s loss, the river Thames is undoubtedly becoming a more contaminated environment over time.

High levels of E. coli (an infection also mentioned as being detrimental to Oxford’s performance) were found in parts of the river, and the Boat Race crews had to be given safety advice beforehand to help them avoid ingesting water. Even the tradition of throwing the winning team’s cox into the river was not carried out. Much of the Thames’ contamination is blamed on the emptying of sewers into the river; 2023 saw five times the quantity of sewage enter the river as in the previous year. 

Despite this, the river’s situation may not be as dire as it appears. Much of the brown colouring is accounted for by mud, and the Thames has seen improvements over time; The Great Stink, 1858, saw people forced out of London by the sheer amount of waste in the river, and it was referred to as ‘biologically dead’ in 1957. In terms of cleanliness, the river’s improvements are undeniable. But with sewage being emptied into the river for longer than 6,590 hours between April and December last year, it is equally evident that change is needed to preserve the river. At this rate it may once again become biologically dead, and an even less clean environment for people and local wildlife… or even beloved visitors like dolphins.