Killer whale pod sighted off Churna Island

*According to WWF-Pakistan, it is the first-ever recorded sighting of the animal in Pakistani waters

KARACHI: While fishing for tuna, fisherman Muhammad Muneeb recorded a pod of killer whales about 50 kilometres southwest of Churna Island and according to WWF-Pakistan it is the first ever recorded sighting of the animal in Pakistani waters.

The killer whale, also known as orca, is considered the most powerful predator on earth and has been reported on only a few occasions from Oman and the Persian Gulf. However, it is rarely found in the northern Arabian Sea. No authentic record of this species is known from Pakistani waters up till now. According to the fisherman, the pod consisted of three orcas, which were feeding on a school of queenfish.

Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries), WWF-Pakistan, confirmed the report of the occurrence of the killer whale and said that it was of immense importance as no killer whale was ever reported during previous cetacean surveys, which were initiated in 2003. He shared that killer whales were the most widely distributed marine mammals, found in all parts of the oceans. “They are most abundantly found in cold waters, including Antarctica, the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans though they also occur at lower densities in tropical, subtropical, and offshore waters.”

However, these whales are of rare occurrence in the Arabian Sea. Scientifically the killer whale is known as Orcinus orca and belongs to the order Odontoceti, which includes all toothed whales and dolphins, he added.

Killer whales are usually found in deep water, however, the depth of water where the animal was sighted is only 72 metres. Khan also shared that the recording of orca in waters off Churna Island indicates rich marine biodiversity in the area and warrants early declaration of Churna Island as a Marine Protected Area so that such rare animals can be protected. Killer whales are highly social animals that occur primarily in relatively stable social groups and often range in number from 2 to 15 or up to several hundred animals. They feed upon a wide variety of prey including dolphins and porpoises; sharks and rays; large whales, cephalopods (octopods and squids), seabirds and various fish species. The global population of orcas is estimated to be about 50,000 individuals of which about 25,000 are known from Antarctic waters. Because of the killer whale’s intelligence, trainability, striking appearance, playfulness, it is one of the favourite animal for exhibit at aquaria and aquatic theme parks.

Rab Nawaz, Senior Director Programmes, WWF-Pakistan pointed out that the report of killer whales in Pakistani waters is a new addition to the cetacean (whale and dolphin) fauna of the country. Its occurrence indicates rich biodiversity in marine waters and requires all nations surrounding the Indian Ocean to take concerted efforts for the protection of diverse marine life of the area. WWF-Pakistan’s crew based observer programme is a great success as it has not only provided important data about tuna fisheries but has turned out to become a ‘platform of opportunity’ as a number of new species of whales and dolphins were recorded by WWF-Pakistan trained observers. ‘In addition to this, observers have also safely released 64 whale sharks, 47 mobulids, 25 sunfish, 6 dolphins, one finless porpoise, 5 whales, 25 sea snakes, 5 masked boobies (seabirds) and thousands of marine turtles’, he added.

Published in Daily Times, November 21st 2017.