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Much more endangered

The unnatural death of whales and dolphins in quick succession during the last few months on the Vizag coast is a major cause for concern.



TINY ISLAND? A killer whale at sea Photo: ap

Recently a Blue Whale calf, 15 metres (about 30.5 feet) long and weighing 2.5 tonnes, was inadvertently caught in a shore seine net by fishermen off the Gangavaram coast. The fishermen retrieved their net, dumped the marine mammal on the shore and left the scene. They are aware of the repercussions of dealing in whales, which are declared an endangered species. Further, whale meat is not consumed in India unlike in the West.

Luckily, some Russians who were on the beach at that time rescued the animal, which was still alive, and pushed it back into the sea with the help of some employees of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant.

This is not an isolated case. The incidence of whales, dolphins and porpoises (they belong to the order cetacean), being spotted dead on the beaches in and around Visakhapatnam, has increased in the last few months. The increased fishing activity by big vessels and trawlers, growth in port traffic and lack of policing by the authorities concerned are all contributing to the death of these highly endangered species.

Though occasional deaths of these marine mammals have been reported on and off over the years, the incidence has multiplied by leaps and bounds with almost a death reported every month during the last few months.

All the three species are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international organisation to control trade in them.

"The unnatural death of whales and dolphins in quick succession during the last few months on the Vizag coast is a disturbing trend. The Government should take steps to set up a whale watch with special devices to ensure strict enforcement of the ban on whaling. Signboards should also be set up indicating the protected areas where movement of vessels and fishing activity should be banned," says the associate professor in Andhra University's Department of Zoology, B. Bharata Lakshmi.

The thick skin, known as 'blubber', acts a good insulator. When a whale opens its mouth wide for food, thousands of small fish, prawns and plankton flow into it. The baleen plates in the Baleen Whales, made of keratin, filter the unwanted material. The baleen plates, resembling the bristles of a brush, hang from either side of the upper jaw.

"When a whale is beached, it is as good as dead. The skeletal structure supports the animal only when it is in water and helps it in maintaining buoyancy," says Dr. Bharata Lakshmi.

Whales are mainly classifed into Baleen Whales (Mysticeti) and Toothed Whales.

Baleens can be sub-classified into Blue Whales, Fin Whale and Right Whale. These three varieties are found in the Bay of Bengal, off the Visakhapatnam coast.

Toothed Whales are sub-classified into Sperm Whales, Dwarf Sperm Whales, Short Finned Pilot Whales and Melon-headed Whales.

B. MADHU GOPAL

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