Maharashtra yet to find cause of 80 marine mammals  deaths
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Maharashtra yet to find cause of 80 marine mammals deaths

According to MMCU, there is no conclusive proof for the mammal deaths in Mumbai even as 29 deaths were reported in 2015, 33 in 2016 and 18 in 2017.

mumbai Updated: Sep 01, 2017 01:03 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai news,Maharashtra,mammal deaths
A 35-foot-long dead whale washed ashore at Mumbai’s Juhu beach in January 2016. (HT File)

Decomposed carcasses of marine mammals continue to wash up along the seashore around Mumbai. The carcass of an eight-foot Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin was found at Rajodi beach, Vasai, on Thursday, making it the 80th such case between 2015 and 2017.

A recent response to a Right-to-Information (RTI) application from the Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit (MMCU), under the state mangrove cell, revealed that only four postmortems have been conducted to ascertain the cause of deaths. According to MMCU, there is no conclusive proof for the mammal deaths in Mumbai even as 29 deaths were reported in 2015, 33 in 2016 and 18 in 2017.

The dolphin at Rajodi washed ashore at 7.30am and local fishermen informed researchers from the Konkan Cetacean Research Team (KCRT) within minutes. “We informed the MMCU about the incident before 8am as the carcass was fresh and it could be rushed for a postmortem or studied for research purposes,” said Mihir Sule, member, KCRT.

Twelve hours later, the mammal was buried by municipal workers at the same beach and the forest department did not show up. “There was no postmortem conducted,” said Sunish Subramaniam, secretary of city based NGO Plants and Animals Welfare Society (PAWS-Mumbai), who filed the RTI with MMCU.

The group alleged that the dolphin’s carcass was not decomposed and the cause of death should have been studied before burying it. “When animals like leopards or even monkeys are injured, they are generally rushed to the nearest veterinary hospital for further treatment or understanding the reason for their death. There is absolutely no coordination between authorities for marine mammals. They are left at the spot where they wash ashore and are even pulled back into the sea at times,” said Subramaniam.

Whales, dolphins and porpoises are endangered species and are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972.

While it is not mandatory to conduct a postmortem for the carcasses of marine mammals under WPA, experts said there is a need for more awareness and development of national level marine protection groups. “There has been an improvement from what it used to be five years ago, but only a team functioning at the national level including local residents, veterinarians, civic body and forest department can communicate faster and ensure treatment, better research or mobilise more man power during strandings,” said Ketki Jog, member, KCRT.

MMCU officials said that most carcasses that have washed ashore over the past two years are severely decomposed. “Carrying out necroscopy (an examination and dissection of a dead body to determine cause of death) for these mammals is impossible because most of their internal organs are outside their body by the time we find them. There is also lack of expertise,” said Makarand Ghodke, assistant conservator of forest, MMCU. “However, a mammal rescue centre at Juhu by this year-end will improve the current situation.”

What’s causing marine animal deaths?

While there is no conclusive proof for 80 marine animal deaths over the past two years, there have been several speculations.

- Pollution, which leads to extremely poor water quality that threatens marine life

- Plastic trash could choke marine animals

- Animals could be Injured after being hit by large vessels at deep seas

- Climate change and sea level rise

- Lunar tides – marine animal beaching taking place during full moon and new moon nights after the tides recede

- Fishermen alleged that oil companies carrying out seismic surveys - seismic blasts from ships to the ocean floor to identify oil and natural gas – that disorient the communication pattern for marine mammals leading to accidents

- Marine animals can get caught in nets, discarded or set up by fishermen for commercial species

- Oil spills at dockyards and at deep seas can kill the animals

- Rise in sea surface temperatures pushing mammals closer to the surface of the ocean and then getting hit by large vessels

First Published: Sep 01, 2017 01:03 IST