Forest officials have said a whale shark found dead along a beach in Odisha may have been hit by ships out at sea
The carcass of a 20-feet-long whale shark washed ashore October 4, 2021, on Ramatara beach under the Kujang forest range near Bhitarkanika forest division in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district.
This was the fourth whale shark found dead along Odisha’s coast in 11 months.
The carcass of a 12-feet-long whale shark had washed ashore December 31, 2020, near the mouth of the Baradia river, three kilometres off the coast of Balasore district.
Fishermen found the carcass of a whale shark March 5, 2021, at Chandipur beach in Balasore district. A 15-feet-long whale shark died after getting trapped in a fishing net in the waters off Paradip August 12, 2021.
“The whale shark found October 4 was perhaps hit by some ships or fishing vessels in the deep sea. The body may have washed ashore after its death,” JD Pati, the divisional forest officer of Bhitarkanika, said.
Fishermen apprised local forest officials about the carcass following which they went to the location. The shark had scars, which showed that it had been entangled on previous occasions, Pati said.
Whale sharks are a protected species under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. They are also included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
The whale shark is a slow-moving, filter-feeding carpet shark and the largest-known extant fish species. The largest confirmed individual had a length of 18.8 metres. The whale shark is also notably the largest living non-mammalian vertebrate, Jati said.
He noted these sharks often get entangled in fishing nets due to their feeding habits.
“We will perform an autopsy. We will also preserve the skeleton by doing taxidermy (stuffing or mounting a dead animal’s hide) and treatment of its skeleton with chemicals after getting permission from the state forest department,” Jati said.
Sajan John, a wildlife researcher with the non-profit, Wildlife Trust of India, who has been working for the conservation of whale sharks in Gujarat for the last 16 years, said the whale shark population in India was declining:
The largest whale shark aggregation is in Gujarat and the only whale shark aggregation along the east coast is in Andhra Pradesh. The death of four whale sharks within 11 months indicates that the Odisha coast is also the home of many whale sharks.
He added that whale sharks had no commercial importance. However, fishers illegally extracted their fins and livers.
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