Posted by: The ocean update | August 13, 2015

Whale carcass washes up at Maharashtra beach (India)

beached-whale-India2August 13th, 2015. “It was emanating a terrible smell and we buried it at the beach itself. It was a whale,” said Range Forest Officer RH Patil.

A 15 feet-long, approximately 10-tonne decomposed body of a whale washed up at Alibaug beach on Thursday morning, less than two months after a live blue whale had stranded on another beach along Maharashtra coast. Forest officials from the Alibaug division buried the carcass around 3.30 pm.

According to officials, the decomposed carcass was just part of the animal and was discovered at the beach around 9 am. “It was emanating a terrible smell and we buried it at the beach itself. It was a blue whale,” said Range Forest Officer RH Patil.

Around 2 pm, wildlife photographer Kunal Salunkhe captured the animal and took three tissue samples- skin on the ventral part. “It’s probably a blue whale, but I’m going to send the tissue samples, preserved in alcohol, to the Konkan Cetacean Research Team for testing to identify the exact species. I informed the forest officials, who instructed me to take the samples and send it,” said Salunkhe.

However, senior officials from the state forest department are not confirming the exact species of the carcass and are hoping that samples taken by Salunkhe will help identify the species. “We can only confirm it is a blue whale after the tissue samples, if taken properly, are tested,” said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests, mangrove cell.

The carcass was found just 1.5km from the Alibaug forest office on Thursday. Officials wearing masks got two earthmovers to dig a grave just beyond the high tide line at Alibaug beach.

Around 12.30 pm, the JCB dragged the carcass around 25 metres away to the grave.

At present, two forest guards are guarding the carcass to avoid theft of the bones or carcass. “Whale is a Schedule 1 animal and we have to bury it, especially because the decomposing carcass would be harmful to public health as it is a frequented beach,” added Patil.

Stranding of whales is not a recent phenomenon. E Vivekanandan, consultant and scientist, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), Chennai, says, “Disorientation is the main cause. What caused the disorientation is almost impossible to say. It could be caused by an injury from colliding with a ship or an attack from killer whales or a disease or even man-made ocean noise (loud sonic blasts used in naval exercises or for oil exploration) which is a certain killer.”

On June 25, in the first case of live stranding on Maharashtra coast, a blue whale washed up ashore on Revdanda beach. Despite efforts to move the 20-tonne marine animal by local fishermen and Alibaug forest department for more than 10 hours, the stranded whale had died ashore and was buried. After three days, the carcass buried along the beach blew up and rose six-foot high above the ground at the spot and the carcass had to be burnt.

Currently, there is no stranding network in India and much of the data reported is not accurate. “To improve coordination between various agencies, it is imperative to establish a marine mammal stranding network in India,” Vivekanandan said.

In May, in search of dolphins for a GOI-United Nations Development Programme study, marine biologists spotted Bryde’s Whales, just six hundred metres off the Maharashtra coast. Back in March, a “bigger” surprise was the sighting of the world’s largest living organism — blue whale — within three kilometres off the Sindhurdurg coast in Maharashtra.

The ‘surprise’ sightings and their frequency so close to the shore has got forest department officials excited (Ed Sibylline : “excited” ??? When all the destruction is partially allowed by navy training and seismic prospection in the area ?), as the last reported sighting of a blue whale, one that washed up on the shore, off Maharashtra coast was in 1914.

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