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Whale carcass washes ashore Palghar; experts sceptical about size claims

Ruchita Sankhe, range forest officer (RFO), Palghar, and forest guard Dhananjay Patil said the whale was 50-foot long, weighed around 12 tonnes, and may have died at sea.

mumbai Updated: Jul 11, 2019 05:26 IST
Badri Chatterjee and Ram Parmar
Badri Chatterjee and Ram Parmar
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
mahim beach,baleen whale,palghar
Officials said as per the measurements they have, this would be the largest mammal to wash ashore the Maharashtra coast so far. Representative image.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)

The decomposed carcass of a baleen whale washed ashore Mahim beach in Kelwe, Palghar, on Wednesday morning.

“We were unable to identify the species of the mammal owing to its decomposed state. However, the same will be confirmed later as tissue samples have been collected,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell.

Ruchita Sankhe, range forest officer (RFO), Palghar, and forest guard Dhananjay Patil said the whale was 50-foot long, weighed around 12 tonnes, and may have died at sea.

However, marine biologists were sceptical about the mammal’s size and weight.

“Decomposed marine animals have fragmented body parts. In this case too [based on photographs], the exact size and weight cannot be determined on the current condition of the carcass,” said E Vivekanandan, former chief scientist and national consultant, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI).

Officials said as per the measurements they have, this would be the largest mammal to wash ashore the Maharashtra coast so far. In September 2016, a 47-ft long Blue Whale, the largest mammal in the world, was rescued from Madban beach, close to Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant in Ratnagiri.

“Such large baleen whales are either blue whales, Bryde’s whale or Arabian Sea humpback whales, all of which are protected under schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.”

According to the forest department, locals first spotted the decomposed carcass of the whale around 4am on Wednesday.

“The forest department was informed by 6am and a team rushed to the spot. We first directed people to move away from the carcass as there was a bad stench indicating that the mammal may have died sometime back at sea, and only washed ashore on Wednesday,” said Sankhe. Owing to the mammal’s decayed condition, the forest department said they had to bury it at the beach itself.

“Two excavator machines were brought to the site to bury the animal. One dug up the trench while the other managed to slowly push the animal into it,” said Sankhe.

“The whale is most likely a male and we have sent the tissues for analysis at our laboratory in Mumbai,” said Patil. “The exact cause of death cannot be ascertained at the moment. We suspect a passing fishing vessel may have injured the mammal.” Last year, HT had reported that rising noise pollution at sea had led to recurring whale-beaching incidents and deaths over the past three years. Shipping noise has doubled with since the 1950s, which is a primary cause for whale deaths, according to Maritime Research Centre, Pune, under Indian Maritime Foundations.

Meanwhile, marine enthusiasts warned citizens to not come in close proximity to the carcass. “There is a health risk in coming close to decayed carcasses,” said Shaunak Modi, a marine enthusiast.

First Published: Jul 11, 2019 05:26 IST