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Joy turns to despair as rescued Blue Whale calf found dead in Mumbai coast

Nov 16, 2023 11:20 AM IST

A Blue Whale calf was successfully rescued and released back into the sea in India, but was found dead the next day near the coast.

On Tuesday night, when officials from the forest department, fisheries department, Coast Guard, and Jindal Steel Works’ (JSW) Jaigadh port rescued a Blue Whale calf from the Ganapatipule beach in Ratnagiri district and released it back in the deep sea, they were elated.

Rescued Blue Whale calf returns to Ganapatipule PREMIUM
Rescued Blue Whale calf returns to Ganapatipule

It was, after all, the first instance of a successful rescue of the endangered species in India, and one that had been achieved after 35 long hours of struggle.

By Wednesday evening, however, the air turned desolate. The whale calf was back near the Ganpatipule coast, floating.

“It appears that the whale is dead, but we will examine in morning and only then give a conclusive answer,” said Rajeshree Keer, range forest officer, Ratnagiri.

High drama unfolded on the beach in Ganapatipule after some nature lovers spotted a Blue Whale calf on Monday morning.

The calf was visibly young, still dependent on its mother’s milk and guidance. But it had drifted away from its pod and landed on the shore, where it was exposed to sunburns and dehydration. If it was not pulled back into the sea fairly soon, it could die.

The forest department made three attempts at rescue on Monday. But they all proved futile, as the calf measured over 31 feet and weighed nearly five tonnes. There was also no precedent of a successful Blue Whale rescue anywhere in the country.

Moreover, the calf had minor bruises and there were chances of its organs being damaged under its own weight. A veterinarian was brought in from Pune to treat the calf and administer antibiotics and medicines to prevent internal bleeding. The whale was also given an intravenous drip.

Meanwhile, a local reporter intimated retired IAS officer and chief executive officer of Maharashtra Institute for Transformation (Mitra) Praveen Pardeshi, who also heads the Bombay Natural History Society.

“The reporter knew that I am a nature lover, so he alerted me. We collectively decided to save the whale calf, and consulted a marine biologist who suggested that we must constantly hydrate it sea water,” said Pardeshi.

Tourists and locals helped a lot by pouring sea water over the whale calf and keeping it hydrated, said officials who were part of the rescue.

Pardeshi also intimated the Jindals about the situation. “We have a power plant in Ratnagiri and Pardeshi, who is known to us for years and supports wildlife causes, called us for help. We called our office and told them to do the best,” said Sangita Jindal, chairperson, JSW Foundation.

By Tuesday morning, the Coast Guard and authorities at JSW’s Jaigadh port joined the rescue efforts, supplying the cables and a powerful tug boat, respectively. The Coast Guard’s Ratnagiri base also deployed five divers and 25 personnel led by Commandant Vikas Gupta for the operation.

“We made 15 attempts to put the whale calf on the boat, but it made 360 degree turns and the cables came off. It also became aggressive on one occasion, creating a life and death situation for rescuers,” said Ankit Garg, head of marine operations at JSW Jaigadh port.

Eventually, Coast Guard divers strapped the whale using the tug boat and police motor boats.

“We got to work at around 9pm on Tuesday night, when the high tide started, and by 11.30pm, we had released the whale in deep sea,” said the range forest officer of Ratnagiri.

As news of the successful rescue spread, environmentalists responded with caution.

“From the images, the whale appeared young and largely dependent on its mother’s milk. We don’t whether the mother is in vicinity or not. The next few days are critical, and we have to keep a watch,” said Ketki Jog, a marine biologist.

On Wednesday evening, when the whale calf was back near the Ganapatipule coast, floating, it was not difficult to see why.

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