The seven-tonne whale shark is being lifted with the help of two cranes on Tuesday morning. – Fahim Siddiqui / White Star

KARACHI, Feb 7: A 36-foot-long whale shark was on Tuesday morning brought to the Karachi Fish Harbour by local fishermen who claimed to have found it dead in the open sea though some experts believed that the shark might have been killed after it got entangled in a net.

The female fish weighs around 7,000 kilos, according to experts.

The whale shark was taken out of the channel with the help of two cranes amid rapturous applause by hundreds of onlookers.

"I have bought the fish, which usually has no significant commercial value, with the help of my friends just to appreciate the efforts of the fishermen who deserve some reward after spending an entire day in the open sea," said Haji Qasim, who said he bought the fish for Rs200,000.

The authorities, he said, had allowed him to keep the fish at the harbour for at least three days for public viewing. "Then I will sell the meat to the people running poultry meal business," he said.

The Sindh Wildlife Department did not intervene on the grounds that 'the species wasn't protected under the Pakistani law and the matter solely rested with the fisheries authorities.'

"Though the department team went there for observation, the matter doesn't fall within our jurisdiction," said Mansoor Ali Shah representing the SWD.

Known as the largest shark and the largest fish in the world and a highly docile and non-aggressive species, the whale shark is listed 'vulnerable' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It is included in the Appendix 2 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

"That means that the fishing of this species is banned under the CITES to which Pakistan is also a signatory and state permission is necessary to carry out such an activity," said Mohammad Moazzam Khan, former director of the Marine Fisheries Department currently working as a consultant with Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

According to Mr Khan, about 35 whale sharks have either been brought reported dead or caught mainly in the Karachi vicinity since 2006.

Over a year ago, the same species of whale shark had become entangled in a net and brought to the Hawkesbay beach.

The largest specimen so far recorded in the world was caught, off Baba Island, on Nov 11, 1947. It was 12.65 metres (41.50ft) long, weighed more than 21.5 tonnes and had a girth of seven metres, according to experts.

"The whale shark is caught as bycatch. Studies and observations show that the Arabian Sea is serving as a feeding, resting and breeding ground for the fish. Unlike other fish, sharks have no bones. It's called a whale because of its huge size. The skeletons of sharks are made of cartilage," Mr Khan said.

He added that about 64 types of sharks, including all the dangerous predator fish, except the most lethal great white shark, had so far been reported in Pakistani waters.

He said that the whale shark was usually not caught due to its poor quality meat. "If caught accidentally, fishermen take out its liver to extract oil which is then used to polish boats.

"The species, which is generally harmless, inhabits all tropical waters," he said.

The fish, he said, was frequently caught in the pre-Independence period and a number of references to the species were found in old writings.

He highlighted the need for creating awareness about the conservation of whale sharks, which were referred to as 'giant innocent fish' with no commercial significance for fishermen.

Known to be a slow-moving plankton-eating shark, the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the largest living fish species. The distinctly marked fish is the only member of its genus Rhincodon and its family of Rhincodontidae.


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