Killer whales seen off Churna Island in rare sighting

Published November 21, 2017
A SCREENGRAB of one of the whales spotted off Churna Island.
A SCREENGRAB of one of the whales spotted off Churna Island.

KARACHI: A pod of killer whales was recently observed about 50km south-west of Churna Island. This is the first ever recorded sighting of this species from Pakistan’s waters, the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P) reported on Monday.

The killer whale, also known as orca, is considered as the most powerful predator on earth. It has been reported a few times from Oman and the Gulf but rarely found in the northern Arabian Sea.

“Mohammad Muneeb looking for tuna with his team about 50km south-west of Churna Island recorded a pod of killer whales on November 19. The three orcas were feeding on a school of queenfish. [There is] no authentic record of this species earlier known from Pakistan’s waters,” says a press rele­ase.

According to Muhammad Moazzam Khan, technical advisor on marine fisheries at WWF-P, no killer whale was reported during the cetacean surveys initiated in 2003.

“The sighting of this whale is of immense importance. While these whales are of rare occurrence in the Arabian Sea, they are among the most widely distributed marine mammals and are abundantly found in colder waters, including Antarctica, the North Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans though they also occur at lower densities in tropical, subtropical, and offshore waters,” he said.

The sighting of orca in waters off Churna Island indicated the rich biodiversity of the island, which should be officially declared protected in order to conserve the marine flora and fauna found here, he added.

Scientifically known as Orcinus orca, the killer whale belongs to the order Odontoceti, which includes all toothed whales and dolphins.

They are highly social and occur primarily in relatively stable groups, often ranging in numbers from two to 15 or up to several hundred animals.

They feed upon a wide variety of prey including dolphins and porpoises, sharks and rays, large whales, cephalopods (octopods and squids), seabirds and various fish species. The global population of orcas is estimated to be about 50,000 individuals. Of them about 25,000 are known from the Antarctic waters.

Known for their intelligence, trainability, striking appearance and playfulness, they are favourite animals for exhibits at aquaria and aquatic theme parks.

Rab Nawaz, the senior director programmes at WWF-P said that the occurrence of killer whales in Pakistan’s waters highlighted the need for nations surrounding the Indian Ocean to take concerted efforts for protection of diverse marine life of the area.

“The WWF-P’s crew-based observer programme has been a great success. It has not only provided important data about tuna fisheries but has turned out to become a ‘platform of opportunity’ as a number of new species of whales and dolphins were recorded. In addition, observers have also safely released a number of endangered species that got trapped in their fishing nets,” he pointed out.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2017

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