KARACHI, Oct 5: A humpback whale has been spotted by officials of the Balochistan fisheries department near Jiwani between Gunz and Pishukan, said World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF) officials on Friday.
The whale — said to be alone and around 50 metres from a boat of the fisheries department on a routine patrol for monitoring illegal trawling activities — surfaced twice very briefly for breathing and went for a long dive after showing its tail fluke on Oct 2, according to the fisheries staff who shared the information with the WWF staff deputed in Jiwani.
The Arabian Sea humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) has been declared endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species since 2008.
“Humpback whales are easily recognisable due to their long pectoral fins, which can be up to 15 feet. The Arabian Sea humpback whale is unique among other known populations of this species in the world in that it is generally thought that this population feeds and breeds in the same area (the Arabian Sea) and does not carry out very long migration to polar waters for feeding. This means that humpback whales can be seen all the year round in the Arabian Sea,” said Shoaib Kiyani, currently working with the WWF and part of the Renaissance Whale and Dolphin Project of Environment Society of Oman.
Citing a recent research in Oman, another key concentration area of the species, he said the number of the humpback whales in Omani waters was below 100.
“The figure shows its population has severely depleted. Still the species hasn’t been able to replenish itself from the great loss in the past that mainly occurred due to illegal Russian whaling in 1960s in the Arabian Sea including waters off Pakistani coast. The species is vulnerable to escalating threats specifically from unregulated fishing activities,” he said.
Sharing information about the species’ peculiar features, he said that it’s a baleen whale. This means it does not possess teeth and feeds by filtering its prey (small fish, crustaceans) from large volumes of water by using baleen plates that are brush-like structures hanging from their upper jaw. The size of this species can be up to 15 metres. However, like other baleen whales, females are larger and can grow up to 18 metres in length, according to him.
“Humpback whales are a popular species due to their tendency to perform amazing acrobatic such as jumping out of water and slapping the water with pectoral fins, tails and head. The sightings and stranding of humpback whales are recorded every now and then along the coast of Pakistani,” said Mr Kiyani.
WWF-Pakistan regional director Rab Nawaz underlined the need for a collaborative approach among all regional states in the Arabian Sea in order to save ‘this charismatic creature for future generations’.
“Our organisation is trying to establish partnership with regional cetacean research groups so that the efforts for conservation of this endangered population can be coordinated to make them more focused and purposeful. The information obtained through research activities will be used for raising awareness in fishers, coastal communities and general public,” he said.