Three whale sharks rescued, released into sea

Published November 7, 2014
ONE of the released whale sharks pictured on Thursday.
ONE of the released whale sharks pictured on Thursday.

KARACHI: Three whale sharks entangled in the offshore waters of Sindh and Balochistan were rescued and released back into the sea by fishermen in October last week, according to World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P).

“One whale shark caught in a tuna gillnet 73km southeast of Karachi off Ghora Bari in Thatta district was 18 feet long, whereas the two others entangled near Shumal Bundar off Pasni were between 10 and 14 feet long,” said Mohammad Moazzam Khan working with the WWF-P as technical adviser on marine fisheries.

The species is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and is included in the Appendix-II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to which Pakistan is a signatory. Inclusion of a species in the Appendix II of CITES means that strict regulatory control should be exercised over the export of the species and its products.

The incidents occurred on Oct 23 and 26, Mr Khan said, claiming that the fishermen who rescued the marine species were trained by the WWF-P.

According to Mr Khan, the release of whale sharks is a good omen, as the gentle giants were used to be killed to extract liver oil. “Historically, there used to be an important whale shark fishery in Pakistan, but spearfishing with harpoons has been stopped since the 1970s. Whale sharks are neither consumed in Pakistan nor is their meat exported. However, fishermen extracted oil from its liver for smearing hull of fishing boats to keep it smooth while meat was converted into poultry meal,” he said.

When a whale shark got entangled in the net and it struggled to get itself released, the fishing net that cost fishermen a lot was badly damaged. Fishermen, therefore, used to kill these marine species in order to protect their nets, he explained.

WWF-Pakistan, he said, had started an observer programme on tuna gillnet vessel in 2012 and trained fishermen on how to save entangled non-target animals. “This has produced positive results and so far about 16 whale sharks have successfully been released by fishermen.

“They also reported seeing a juvenile whale shark estimated to be about 14 feet long in the Ras Malan area in Balochistan on Oct 22. Seeing it as a friend now, fishermen didn’t harm the shark as it encircled their boat for a while before disappearing in the sea,” he said.

WWF-Pakistan director Rab Nawaz said whale sharks were not protected in Pakistan but the fishing community considered them an important marine animal that shouldn’t be killed merely for liver oil.

“There is a need to make appropriate law to protect whale sharks in Pakistan as has been done in other countries. Besides, gillnet fisheries in Pakistan is known to cause high mortality of protected, endangered and threatened species, such as whale sharks, turtles and dolphins. Hence, the government also need to devise a policy to discourage gillnet fisheries in Pakistan,” he said.

According to Mr Nawaz, many countries, including Sri Lanka, have converted a large number of their gillnet boats to long-lining that is considered a safer gear. “The quantity of the target and non-target catch increases manifold through tuna gillnetting. The long-lining, on the other hand, helps fishermen fetch a better price of their limited catch and drastically reduce number of by-catch,” he said.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2014

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