KARACHI: At least five whale sharks, all of them aged between three and four years, have been killed by fishermen within less than two weeks, it emerged on Friday.
The latest victim was a 6.7-metre-long whale shark caught and killed in Gwadar on Thursday, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Pakistan) which is maintaining an inventory of whale sharks caught or spotted in Sindh and Balochistan waters.
The whale shark was caught and killed in a gillnet at Cher Koh, West Bay, Gwadar on Thursday, said Abdul Rahim, WWF-P site coordinator.
He added that another whale shark, a 2.9-metre-long juvenile, was spotted in the offshore waters in Ormara, Balochistan, 10 days ago.
Mohammad Moazzam Khan, a technical adviser on marine resources associated with the WWF-P, said it was the first time in his 40-year experience that he heard of whale shark mortalities in such a large number and that, too, within 10 days.
“It can be called an unusual phenomenon,” he said.
“One explanation can be the impact of climate change on marine life, as rising sea temperatures might have led to increase production of planktons that is the main food of whale sharks.”
Recalling the recent killing of whale sharks, he said a sub-adult whale shark about 5.1 metres long was brought to the Karachi Fish Harbour on April 21. It was caught by a bottom trawler at 36 metres depth and was killed by fishermen, he added.
The three specimens of the same species, according to him, were also brought to the Karachi Fish Harbour last month.
“One of them was 3.4 metres long and another was 3.9 metres long. Then, there was a female whale shark caught on April 27 and towed to the Karachi harbour. In all the cases, the whale was chopped into pieces and their meat was sold to fish meal processors,” he said.
WWF-Pakistan Director Rab Nawaz highlighted the need for taking appropriate measures for management and conservation of whale sharks in Pakistan.
“There is a need to make a new law for the protection of marine species like whales, dolphins, turtles and whale sharks found in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Pakistan which comes under the federal government as provincial limits end at 12 nautical miles,” he said, adding that provincial fisheries departments both in Balochistan and Sindh needed to raise awareness about the conservation of non-targeted marine species in fishing communities.
Currently, there is no law in Pakistan that bans catch of whale sharks also called the Gentle Giant of the Sea. Considered as the largest living fish species, the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is listed ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and is included in the Appendix 2 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) that means restriction on its trade.
The northern Arabian Sea bordering the coast of Pakistan is one of the most important feeding and breeding grounds for the species in the world.