Published On: Wed, Sep 21st, 2016

Karachi fishermen record pod of rare Arabian Sea humpback whales

arabian sea  humpback whale spotted in offshore waters

Staff Report
Some fishermen of Karachi have recorded school of six Arabian Sea humpback whales from offshore waters of Karachi last week, a statement issued by WWF-Pakistan on Wednesday said.
WWF-Pakistan also claimed in the statement that these are a rare species of whales, though native to Arabian Sea and also WWF has trained these fishermen who have recorded a video of the school of whales.
Islam Badshah, captain of a tuna fishing boat, observed one whale on 12 September 2016 about 12 km south of Karachi. At the same time another tuna fishing vessel captained by Iqrar Muhammad observed a pod of four Arabian Sea humpback whales about 14 km south of Karachi. While another humpback whale was recorded on 17 September 2016 about 22 km south of Karachi by Captain Badshah Nawab. These fishermen have been trained under WWF-Pakistan implemented projects supported by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Global Environmental facility (GEF) and Common Oceans funded Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).This is for the first time that more than one humpback whale was observed along the Pakistan coast. Earlier, only a single specimen of the Arabian Sea humpback whale was either observed in offshore waters or beached along the coast.

The humpback whale, scientifically known as Megaptera novaeangliae, inhabiting the Arabian Sea is considered to be anisolated subpopulation of this whale that does not migrate to colder temperate or polar waters for feeding or breeding purposes. According to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) there are 14 Distinct Population Segments (DPS) of humpback whales in the world. Of these, the Arabian Sea population is the smallest, most distinct, and most at risk. According to some eestimates there areonly 82 individuals left.Its range is believed to extend from the coasts of Yemen and Oman in the west to Iran, Pakistan and India in the east.

Energy exploration and fishing gear entanglements are considered to be major threats to the subpopulation of humpback whales. Additionally, disease, vessel collisions, and climate change are other factors that are also considered to be affecting the population of this endangered whale. The NOAA categorized Arabian Sea Distinct Population Segments at ‘high risk of extinction’.

Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries), WWF-Pakistan appreciated the efforts of the fishermen who recorded these humpback whales. Fishermen in Pakistan generally avoid interaction with whales as they can become entangled in fishing gears. They do not lay their nets in the area where whales are observed or are considered as hotspot of whales including the area in the south of Karachi, which is a natural abode of the whales. On a number of occasions, fishermen trained by WWF-Pakistan have released entangled cetaceans (whales and dolphins). Moazzam Khan further pointed out that whales were declared protected species under fisheries legislations of Government of Sindh and Balochistan in May 2016 and September 2016 respectively. It was also declared a protected species under the Balochistan Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act 2014. He further emphasized the need to include Arabian Sea humpback whales and other cetaceans in the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 1972. Effective implementation on these legislation can ensure protection of this endangered subpopulation of humpback whale.

Rab Nawaz, Senior Director Programmes, WWF-Pakistan pointed out that in order to develop a collaborative research and conservation strategy for this species WWF-Pakistan has established an Arabian Sea humpback whale network which organized an international workshop in Dubai in January 2015. This workshop was attended by experts from regional countries and other parts of the world. During the workshop, it was decided that immediate and close cooperation between the regional countries is required for protection of this endangered subpopulation of whale. He considered the present record of their occurrence a good omen and said this visual evidence confirms that their viable population occurs in Pakistan.

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