KARACHI: While navigating about 22 km south of Gunz, near Jiwani, Captain Mehar Gul spotted two spouts of whales, looking at the animals, fisherman became very curious and immediately followed them.
Eventually, the whales turned out to be a pair of sperm whales which had never been reported live from Pakistani waters. The fishermen followed these whales for about one and half hour after which the two whales took a deep dive and disappeared into the sea. Earlier, a skeleton of a sperm whale was reported from Sonara Beach near Karachi in December 2005, whereas a few of bones of another specimen were collected from Daran Beach near Jiwani.
Sperm whales, scientifically known as Physeter macrocephalus can be easily recognized by their massive heads and prominent rounded foreheads. It is a cosmopolitan species, which is globally found in all major oceans. These whales are considered the largest predator on Earth and feed on a variety of fishes and invertebrates; however, 80 per cent of their diet consists of large squids. Sperm whales have the largest brain of any creature known to have lived on Earth.
Sperm whale heads also hold large quantities of substance called spermaceti. Whalers once believed that the oily fluid was sperm, but scientists still do not understand the function of spermaceti. One common theory is that the fluids-which harden to wax when cold-helps the whale alter its buoyancy so that it can dive deep and rise again. Sperm whales are known to dive as deep as 3,280 feet in search of squid. These giant mammals can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes on such dives.
WWF-Pakistan has trained more than 100 fishermen (mainly skippers) to collect information about fish catch as well as bycatch, especially of megafauna (whales, dolphins, whale sharks and mobulids rays). Fishermen are also trained to safely release rare marine species that are incidentally entangled in their fishing nets and also to collect information about free swimming whales and dolphins. During post-monsoon months last year, from August to December 2016, WWF-Pakistan trained fishermen sighted an unprecedented number of baleen whales from Pakistan's coast. A total of 47 sightings of baleen whales including 12 confirmed sighting of Arabian humpback whales and 3 sightings of Bryde's whales were recorded. However, the present sighting of sperm whales is first ever live record of specimen in Pakistani waters.
According to Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries), WWF-Pakistan, the Arabian Sea is known to have a large population of oceanic squids including purpleback flying squid and rhomboid squids, therefore, it was likely that the sperm whale could also dwell in Arabian Sea, as 80 per cent of its diet consists of large pelagic squids. He appreciated the efforts of Captain Mehar Gul who followed the two sperm whales and recorded them on camera. 'The dive pattern and terminal blow confirms that the two whales are adults as their size exceeds 10 metres,' he added.
Dr. Babar Khan, Regional Head Sindh and Balochistan WWF-Pakistan lauded the efforts of fishermen in reporting the first live record of sperm whales in Pakistani waters and considered the sighting an important addition to the knowledge of biodiversity of the Arabian Sea. He shared that a total of 23 species of cetaceans (whale, dolphin and porpoises) are known to occur in Pakistani waters. This sighting of sperm whales indicates the rich diversity of marine life along the coast of Pakistan. He also emphasized the need to implement a Cetacean Conservation Strategy, which was developed by WWF-Pakistan and other stakeholders in 2013; it aims to protect whales and other cetaceans in Pakistani waters.
Published in Daily Times, September 13th 2017.