KARACHI: A team of fisherman have successfully released a rare Arabian Sea humpback whale entangled in gillnet near Ghora Bari, coast of Sindh.
Al-Mustafah fishing boat, captained by Nakhuda Sajan, cast its net to catch Indian mackerel during the night of 12 December 2016 in the Swatch area (Indus Canyon), about 140 km south of Karachi.
In the morning a giant Arabian Sea humpback whale measuring approximately 10.5 m was found entangled in the monofilament net. Sajan immediately radioed to other fishing vessels operating in the area for help.
The tuna vessel Al-Jihad captained by Saeed Badsha, a WWF-Pakistan trained fisherman, immediately rushed to the scene and safely released the whale. This is the first time that an Arabian Sea humpback whale was successfully released by fisherman in the high seas.
Previously, a Longman's beaked whale (Indopacetus pacificus) was safely released by a fisherman in offshore waters off Khobar Creek on 11 February 2015. In another incidence on 5 December 2012, fishermen of Gunz, Balochistan safely released an Arabian Sea humpback whale entangled in a bottom sea gillnet.
Rab Nawaz, Senior Director-Programmes, WWF-Pakistan pointed out that there are now concrete evidences that the Arabian Sea humpback whale frequently visits Pakistani waters. Studies initiated by WWF-Pakistan revealed that during the last three months (October to date) a total of 43 Arabian Sea humpback whales have been sighted within Pakistani waters. He also pointed out that a regional program for monitoring of whales in the Northern Arabian Sea including Pakistan, Iran, Oman, Yemen and UAE has been planned with the aim to estimate the population of whales in the area. Rab Nawaz opined that there is a reasonably large population of whales in Pakistani waters; however, there is a need to study the distribution, abundance, biology and interaction with anthropogenic activities.
Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries), WWF-Pakistan who is also Chairman of Pakistan Whale and Dolphin Society informed that the Arabian Sea humpback whale is possibly the world's rarest animal as its population, which is restricted between Oman and India, is estimated to be less than 100.
He lauded the efforts of fisherman for releasing the rare animal and shared that earlier, in case of entanglement; whales would die due to exhaustion and drowning or in many cases were killed by fishermen in order to save their nets. 'WWF-Pakistan has initiated an awareness campaign about conservation of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) and has also trained about 60 fishermen (mainly nakhudas) to safely release the entangled whales and other mega fauna.'
Moazzam Khan further informed that WWF-Pakistan in collaboration with the National Centre for Maritime Policy Research (Bahria University-Karachi Campus) and Pakistan Whale and Dolphin Society had arranged a national workshop on development of strategy for cetacean conservation in Pakistan on 22 May 2013 in which a national action plan for protection and conservation of cetacean including whales in Pakistan was finalized.
He appreciated that as a follow-up of this workshop, both Sindh and Balochistan Governments enacted legislation for the protection of whales and dolphins in their respective waters.
The Balochistan (Wildlife Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Bill 2014 prohibits the catch of cetaceans including whales and dolphins. Similarly under the rules notified in 2016 under Balochistan Sea Fisheries Ordinance, 1971 and Sindh Fisheries Ordinance, 1981, it prohibits the catch of any whales and dolphins in waters of Balochistan and Sindh. He urged both maritime governments to effectively implement these legislations.