Rare juvenile whale sharks sighted in Maharashtra


Niwati (Maharashtra) : Two rare juvenile whale sharks were found trapped in a fishing net off the coast of Niwati in Maharashtra.

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Local fishermen found two whale sharks entangled in their nets Wednesday.

“One of the fish managed to escape while the other, about eight feet long, was brought through a channel to a shallow pool in the shore, where it died Thursday morning,” Dhiresh Joshi of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) told IANS.

Whale sharks have been sighted in the past in several coastal regions in the country, but sightings of juveniles are extremely rare.

“This is an exciting find and is very rare. The sighting also indicates that there could be a breeding population nearby. The breeding grounds of whale sharks have been elusive to scientists around the world,” Joshi said Saturday.

Whale sharks are protected under schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.

“Sarang Kulkarni, a marine biologist in the area, came to know of the incident and requested WTI for emergency relief. The fish, however, died before help could reach the site,” Joshi added.

“The death, perhaps, could have been avoided had the fishermen kept the fish in deeper waters,” said Wafar, a scientist with the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in Goa who works with WTI for whale shark conservation.

“More awareness must be created among fishermen to avoid such incidents in the future,” he said.

In 2004, WTI launched a campaign to spread awareness about whale sharks among fishermen and other stakeholders in Gujarat. As a result, incidents of fishermen voluntarily cutting their nets to release the fish have become common.

“We have plans of extending our whale shark awareness campaign to other states, including Kerala where large number of sightings and accidental killings of the fish have been reported, ” said Joshi who is in charge of the campaign.

The whale shark is the largest fish on earth. It can grow up to 20 metres in length and weighs 12-15 tonnes. It is found in all tropical and warm temperate ocean waters other than the Mediterranean Sea.

Whale sharks feed on plankton, small fish and krill. They are generally solitary and congregate in large numbers only during mass spawning and plankton blooms.