The country will get its first museum dedicated to preserving skeletal remains of marine mammals in Mumbai by this year end. As a part of Maharashtra forest department’s under-construction Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Centre at Airoli, Navi Mumbai, skeletal remains of four endangered species — a Bryde’s whale, Sperm whale, Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins and finless porpoises — will be on display.
The move comes at a time when close to 30 dolphin carcasses, six whale carcasses and a few finless porpoises had washed ashore over the past two years along the Mumbai and Maharashtra coast owing to unknown reasons.
“Marine mammals are a group of least studied animals and many of them are found along our coasts. Since they are endangered species, it is very important to conserve them,” said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell. “With conservation begins awareness. People need to understand the diversity and significance of this special group of animals that have adapted to life at sea.”
He added that while there are centres focusing on marine biodivesity in places like the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Mannar Marine Interpretation Centre in Tamil Nadu, have only one or two skeletal remains of marine species, this will be the first-of-its-kind museum which will have a variety of marine mammals.
The 50X5 metre museum will house the skeleton of the 40-foot-long male Bryde’s whale (schedule I species, Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and endangered as per International Union for Conservation of Nature) that washed up at Juhu beach, near Juhu Tara Road, on January 29, 2016. The whale was beached for 17 hours and could not be rescued. The carcass of the whale was buried at Juhu beach after the rescue operation failed and the mangrove cell will be transporting its skeletal form to the museum by April.
Other mammals on display would include a 25-foot-long male Sperm whale (schedule I species) that had washed ashore at Sindhudurg, Maharashtra in 2012, the bodies of Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins and finless porpoises that had washed ashore at various Mumbai beaches, have all been preserved by the mangrove cell.
Vasudevan added that only those bodies were chosen that were in a position to be recovered. “After conducting proper forensics, the skeletal remains of four species were cleaned up and are ready for display,” he said.
The Rs10 crore project is being funded by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), an international agency and is part of the second phase of the Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Centre at Airoli, likely to be functional by December 2017, said Vasudevan.
Information about 40 other marine mammals will be on display through signages identifying food habits, lifespan, habitat of these mammals and most importantly, information about rescuing them at sea and during live beaching incidents.
Marine biologists pointed out that this was the need of the hour as there is hardly any research in India when it comes to marine mammals. “As there are hardly any such centres in the country, it is a welcome step by the forest department in light of awareness building not only for researchers but for young children with ambitions to study marine biology,” said E Vivekanandan, marine biologist and scientist, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI).
Why you should care?
Scientists said the number of mammal deaths have been maximum along the coast of Maharashtra in the past one year across the country.
Past instances of whale beaching in Maharashtra
October 7, 2016: A mutilated carcass of a 35-foot-long blue whale, the largest mammal in the world, washed ashore at Guhaghar beach.
September 11, 2016: A 47-foot blue whale, the largest mammal in the world, was rescued from a beach near village Madban, close to Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant in Ratnagiri district. It was rescued by forest officials using two boats and 50 people.
February, 2016: A 40-foot-long blue whale was rescued with the help of two boats in a nine-hour long rescue operation near Daboli, Ratnagiri, which was the first ever successful rescue operation carried out along the coast of Maharashtra for the largest mammal in the world. A 20-member team had rescued the mammal with the help of two boats.
January, 2016: The carcass of a 40-foot-long male Bryde’s whale washed up at Juhu beach, near Juhu Tara Road, on January 29. The whale was beached for 17 hours and could not be rescued and sent back to the sea. The carcass of the whale was burnt and buried at Juhu beach after the rescue operation failed.
August 2015: A decomposed carcass of a 22-foot-long Blue Whale was washed ashore at Alibaug beach. Forest officials buried the body at one end of the beach by the afternoon on that day itself
June 2015 - A 42-foot-long live Blue Whale had washed ashore and beached at Alibaug. Several attempts made by the forest department and local fishermen from the area to push the Whale back into the sea went in vain and the whale died after collapsing on its own body weight a few hours after beaching. The rescue operation went on for 18 hours.