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Unusual sighting: Gigantic blue whale along with calf filmed off Churna Island

By Monitoring report
September 14, 2017

KARACHI: To the utter surprise of cetacean experts, a gigantic mother blue whale and calf were sighted off Churna Island, Balochistan on Sept 11.

This is the first sighting of live blue whales in Pakistani waters.

WWF-Pakistan’s trained skipper, Saeed Zaman while fishing for tuna spotted a very large sized animal together with its baby in waters.

According to the fisherman, the mother whale was around 17 metres in length, almost the same size of their fishing boat whereas the calf surfaced rarely so its size could not be assessed.

Earlier, a number of skeletal remains and beached blue whales were reported from Pakistani waters. The last such dead specimen was observed at Khuddi Creek along the coast of Sindh on 11 August 2014.

Although 47 sightings of baleen whales have been reported from the coast of Pakistan in 2016 none of them could be attributed to blue whale. It may be noted that on 10 September, WWF-Pakistan trained fishermen recorded the first live pair of sperm whales off Gunz, Balochistan.

Blue whales are considered to be the largest animal ever to have existed on this planet with authentic record of length of about 30 metres. The global population of this species is estimated to be between 10,000 and 25,000 and is considered as endangered according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

A blue whale typically gives birth once every two to three years after a gestation period of 10 to 12 months.

The calf weighs about 2.5 tonnes and is usually around 7 metres in length. Despite having an enormous body, a blue whale’s diet includes nearly tiny shrimplike animals called krill or pelagic shrimp.

According to experts, during certain times of the year, a single adult blue whale consumes about 4 tonnes of krill a day. The Arabian Sea is known to have a number of species of pelagic shrimp which could be the reason for the presence of this animal in these waters.

According to Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries), WWF-Pakistan the first live record of a blue whale sighting and that too with a calf is a remarkable indication of the diverse marine life along the coast of Pakistan.

He attributed the recent increase in sighting of whales to the effective monitoring of WWF-Pakistan’s crew based observer programme. More than 100 fishermen, mainly skippers, have been trained by WWF-Pakistan to record sightings of megafauna (whales, dolphins, whale sharks, mobulida rays, turtles and sunfish) as well as ensure the safe release of such animals in case of any entanglement. Through this programme, trained fishermen have so far released 60 whale sharks, 45 mobulids, 25 sunfish, 6 dolphins, one finless porpoise, 5 whales, 25 sea snakes, 5 masked boobies (seabirds) and thousands of marine turtles.

Rab Nawaz, Senior Director Programmes, WWF-Pakistan lauded the efforts of the fishermen in recording the clip.

He pointed out that Churna Island and its immediate environment are biodiversity hot spots. It is a known abode of large whales, whale sharks and sunfish as well as a major coral habitat, which needs to be protected.

WWF-Pakistan is working very closely with a number of NGOs, Ministry of Climate Change and Forest and Wildlife Department of the Government of Balochistan to declare Churna Island as a Marine Protected Area.

He urged all stakeholders for early declaration of the island as an MPA in order to conserve and protect the biological hotspot, blue whales and other marine animals whose population is on the decline so that they may continue to feed, breed and bask in the area.