A ‘FREE Willy style’ rescue operation is being considered to move the beluga whale living off the coast of Tilbury.

Affectionately nicknamed Benny the Beluga, the whale was initially spotted near Coalhouse Fort, East Tilbury, two weeks ago.

But now, it has been revealed the whale could be airlifted from the Thames – and flown 1,150 miles to Iceland.

Animal welfare experts are preparing to use the same methods which were used to lift and fly Keiko –the whale which starred in the film Free Willy.

Experts have come up with a plan that will involve scooping the whale out of the water in a ‘wet sling’ before it is flown to Klettsvik Bay sea sanctuary.

It is feared that the whale’s health will start to deteriorate as the water begins to warm if it is still in the Thames next year.

Marine biologist Chris Parsons told the Mirror: “In the long term if this animal starts failing, what they could do is move him or her to an interim facility in one of the sea life centres, then move it to the specialised beluga whale sanctuary.

“Maybe it’ll be OK over winter, but when it comes into next summer and if there’s yet another heatwave, that will not be great for this animal.

“The water temperature is too warm.

“To come into the Thames is really rather odd and of course there are concerns about pollution and whether it would pick up any disease.”

The potential rescue mission is reminiscent of the story of killer whale Keiko, the star of the Free Willy film.

The whale was first spotted on September 25 by wildlife photographer Dave Andrews.

The whale will stay in place in the Thames, unless it begins to show signs of ill health and distress – at which point a rescue mission will be launched.

A 100m exclusion zone has been put in place by the Port London Authority – any boats which get too close to the mammal face a fine.