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September 22, 2016

Humpback whales sighted along Karachi coast


September 22, 2016

WWF-Pakistan trained fishermen recorded six Arabian Sea humpback whales, a rare species, in offshore waters of Karachi last week. 

Islam Badshah, captain of a tuna fishing boat, observed one whale on September 12, about 12 km south of Karachi. At the same time, another tuna fishing vessel captained by Iqrar Muhammad observed a pod of four Arabian Sea humpback whales about 14 km south of Karachi. 

Yet another humpback whale was recorded on September 17 about 22 km south of Karachi by Captain Badshah Nawab. These fishermen have been trained under WWF-Pakistan implemented projects supported by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Global Environmental facility (GEF) and Common Oceans funded Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ). 

As per a WWF statement, this was the first time that more than one humpback whale was observed along Pakistan’s coast. Earlier, only a single specimen of the Arabian Sea humpback whale was either observed in offshore waters or beached along the coast.

The humpback whale, scientifically known as Megaptera novaeangliae, inhabiting the Arabian Sea is considered to be an isolated subpopulation of this whale that does not migrate to colder, temperate or polar waters for feeding or breeding purposes. According to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) there are 14 Distinct Population Segments (DPS) of humpback whales in the world. Of these, the Arabian Sea population is the smallest, most distinct, and most at risk. According to some eestimates there are only 82 individuals left. Its range is believed to extend from the coasts of Yemen and Oman in the west to Iran, Pakistan and India in the east.

Energy exploration and fishing gear entanglements are considered to be major threats to the subpopulation of humpback whales. Additionally, disease, vessel collisions, and climate change are other factors that are also considered to be affecting the population of this endangered whale. The NOAA categorized Arabian Sea Distinct Population Segments at ‘high risk of extinction’.

Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries), WWF-Pakistan appreciated the efforts of the fishermen who recorded these humpback whales. Fishermen in Pakistan generally avoid interaction with whales as they can become entangled in fishing gears.

They do not lay their nets in the area where whales are observed or are considered as hotspot of whales including the area in the south of Karachi, which is a natural abode of the whales. On a number of occasions, fishermen trained by WWF-Pakistan have released entangled cetaceans (whales and dolphins). Moazzam Khan further pointed out that whales were declared protected species under fisheries legislations of Government of Sindh and Balochistan in May 2016 and September 2016, respectively.

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