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Whale carcass dumped on open plots

September 21, 2011

KARACHI, Sept 21: Wildlife conservators and marine experts on Wednesday were taken aback by the disposal of the body of the whale that had washed up on the Seaview beach a day earlier by Cantonment Board Clifton staff without preserving its skeleton.

The parts of the badly decomposed body of the whale were removed from the beach and dumped in open plots at different places in Phase VIII of the Defence Housing Authority.

The whale, identified by most experts as a blue whale, was a rare specimen that was said to be at least 69 feet long.

However, sources said, the sad development occurred after experts could not agree how to dispose of the marine mammal.

While some wanted the disposal in a way that could help recover the mammal’s bones, others believed that the body was ‘too decomposed’ and since it could not form a complete skeleton, it was better to bury all the pieces.

In the absence of a guideline and pressure from the Sindh wildlife authorities, the CBC reportedly acted independently and disposed of the whale’s body.

Speaking to Dawn earlier in the day, Mansoor Ali Shah of the Sindh Wildlife Department said: “It is up to the DHA and the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) how they dispose of the whale’s body. However, we have asked them to inform us whenever they make such an effort.”

The carcass, he said, had an overpowering stench and should be disposed of immediately.

“It’s of no use because it’s not a complete skeleton. So, the CBC can chop it into pieces and dispose it,” he said.

Sindh wildlife conservator Saeed Baloch and Mansoor Ali Shah were not available for comments following the cantonment board’s action.

No contact could be made with CBC officials.

However, senior marine biologist Dr Fehmida Firdous said that it was a rare specimen of the whale that should have been preserved.

“It didn’t matter if it’s in a decomposed form. The whale was of enormous size and weight and we could have used its remaining skeleton for educational and research purposes,” said Dr Firdous, who is currently stationed in Hyderabad.

Recalling her efforts, she said that she and her staff had to work really hard to conserve the bones of a fin whale that had washed ashore four years ago on the Clifton beach near the Misri Shah Mazar.

“Helped by my staff, I guided butchers how to make pieces of the decaying whale’s body despite the fact that the place stank and we took a whole week to finish the job,” she said. The bones were finally extracted and preserved.

Criticising the CBC’s action, Dr Babar Hussain of the World Wildlife Fund-Pakistan, who has also been working on cetaceans, said: “It’s unbelievable that the pieces have been thrown in the open.”

He said the wildlife department was supposed to remain in contact with the CBC and give them a guideline for burial in writing.

“For the past two days, we have been making efforts to conserve the specimen. The WWF wanted to preserve whatever was left and use it for public awareness about whale. Since the body has been thrown away at different places, bones retrieval is no more possible,” he grumbled.

A former director-general of the marine fisheries department, Moazzam Khan, also said that the specimen did have biological and technical significance and should have been preserved.

“Having said that, it’s also a fact that the body was a source of inconvenience to residents and had to be removed immediately.

Had there been a wildlife institution involved in the event, a different situation might have emerged,” he said.

He expressed hope that mammal’s bones might be recovered from the sites where they had been thrown.Pakistani waters, he said, were home to almost all types of whale species, including the killer whale and sperm whale, and the phenomenon witnessed on the Clifton beach on Tuesday was not a rare occurrence.

“Such cases occur once in two years. At least 25 such cases have been recorded over the past 30 to 35 years. In 2002, a female humpback whale washed ashore the Clifton beach and the wildlife department also preserved it,” he said, adding that usually the marine mammals died when it came closer to the shore after losing its track and getting disoriented in the process.

According to Mr Moazzam, the blue whale at the Seaview beach was the largest specimen, at least 73 feet long, ever recorded on the shores of Pakistan. The other recorded blue whale, about 67 feet long, was found on the Pasni beach in 1969. The specimen is on display at the Pakistan Museum of Natural History in Islamabad.