Hung upside down from a crane by its tail, nearly 42-foot long giant looked as huge as the museum building itself. — ONLINE

ISLAMABAD: The whale shark found dead in the Arabian Sea by fishermen earlier this month landed at Pakistan Museum of National History (PMNH) Islamabad to be preserved and made part of its priceless collection, later to be exhibited as a real treat for the people.

Its skin and bones came in a truck and reached the museum Friday afternoon. The air around the dead fish, in some 20 to 30-foot radius, was filled with strong repelling stench.

However, the photographers braved the smell being unable to resist the temptation and gathered around in great numbers clicking their cameras while the museum staff made films using their cellphones to capture the memorable moment.

Hung upside down from a crane by its tail, nearly 42-foot long giant looked as huge as the museum building itself.

"It will take us at least four to five months to chemically process the skin and bones. It will take another two months to stuff the giant before being able to be displayed in the gallery for public viewing," said Dr M. Rafique at the Zoological Science Division, PMNH who brought the whale shark to the federal capital.

The whale shark is considered the biggest fish in the world. It is a rare species declared vulnerable by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of its fast depleting population. It is commercially exploited because of its high value in international trade. It is called whale shark because of its enormous size and whale like feeding habits.

This particular fish weighed 16 tons (16,000kg). Its liver weighed about 800kg, stomach 600kg and was carrying as many as 1,500 eggs in its belly.

"Its cause of death will be ascertained once the test reports from labs are received in about two-week time. Apparently, it seems to be a case of natural death because in a random assessment this whale shark was about 50 to 60 years old and all its body organs,  heart, liver and skin  were intact. They usually have an average lifespan of 70 years," said Dr M. Rafique.

Elaborating on the specimen's natural habitat, the expert said the fish lives around coral reefs where marine life was rich, full of calcium deposits from Africa all the way down to South East Asia and around Australia where it breeds in spring season.

According to PMNH, the Karachi fish harbour authority and marine fisheries department realised the importance of the fish and swung into action after international community started making phone calls in reaction to photographs that spread worldwide when a local fisherman put the dead creature on display, charging a ticket of Rs20 per person.

"The immediate task was to save the specimen from being perished. The skin and bones will be processed in the museum for its long-term preservation," said Director-General PMNH, Pakistan Science Foundation. Dr S. Azhar Hassan during the press conference called to announce the arrival of the fish.

He said all parts of the whale shark had been preserved for laboratory analysis and to determine its exact age.

The largest whale shark to drift into Pakistani waters and get caught was back on November 11, 1947. It measured 41.5 feet in length and weighed over 20 tons (20,000kg).

"Unfortunately the fish could not be preserved due to lack of knowledge and resources.

Opportunity knocked again and this time we were wiser enough to save the unique creature for the benefit of researchers, students and public," said the director-general PMNH.

The museum, its new home, hosts specimens of some 45,000 fish and 1,000 sharks.

It also takes pride in having a prized collection of skeletons of two blue whales, one that was found from Balochistan in 1967. It was some 100-foot long, and weighed nearly 200 tons (200,000kg).