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33-foot-long whale carcass found in Sonmiani

Updated August 27, 2013

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KARACHI, Aug 26: The decomposing carcass of a 33-foot-long Bryde’s whale was spotted in the Damb area of Sonmiani of Balochistan on Sunday by a team of World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P).

The whale reportedly remained stranded in Miani Hor lagoon for a day before it died.

“According to the information we have gathered the whale was alive on Aug 19 and died the next day. By the time our team reached there, fishermen had towed the whale carcass to the southern part of the lagoon where it is lying now in rotten condition,” Mohammad Moazzam Khan, technical adviser on marine fisheries (WWF-P) and former director general of marine fisheries department who visited the site, said.

He said that the fishermen had removed a major part of the mammal’s belly in search for ambergris (a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull grey colour produced in the digestive system of sperm whales), a source for creating perfumes much like musk or use for as a medicinal ingredient.

“Ambergris, however, is not found in baleen whales and fishermen have unnecessarily mutilated the carcass of the marine mammal,” he added.

He expressed surprise over its stranding and said that the whale seldom ventured so deep inside creeks and lagoons and it seemed that the marine mammal had accidentally entered Miani Hor in pursuit of prey and got disoriented.

According to Mr Khan, fives species of large whales are found in Pakistan of which three are baleen whales (whales which do not have teeth and feed on small animals and fishes); blue whale, Bryde’s whale and humpback whale.

These mammals gulp water in large quantities which passes through a screen like structure called baleen which filter animals from the water.

The other two large whales belong to a group of whales known as toothed whales. They are predators and hunt their prey; mainly large fishes and other marine mammals. The toothed whales found in Pakistan are sperm whale and orca that feed on deep sea squids. Hard part of prey accumulates in their bodies in the form of mass called ambergris, he added.

Shoaib Kiyani, expert on whales working with the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Karachi, confirmed the identification of the whale scientifically known as Balaenoptera edeni and said that it was found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Rab Nawaz, regional director of the WWF-Pakistan, said that a regional programme of monitoring of whales in the Northern Arabian Sea, including Pakistan, Iran, Oman, Yemen and the UAE, had been planned with the aim of estimating whale population in the area.

“A national action plan for protection and conservation of cetaceans has also been finalised and will be submitted to the Sindh and Balochistan government soon,” he said.

Samples for the whale carcass for analysis have been collected by teams of experts from the WWF-Pakistan, Balochistan forest and wildlife department, fisheries department of Balochistan, local environmentalists and officials of two conservation organisations CARD (Coastal Association for Research and Development) and SDO (Sonmiani Development Organisation).