A 35-foot long whale-shark dragged into the Karachi harbour will go on display for three days at the auction hall where its owner will charge viewers.
Fishermen dragged it to Karachi harbour in the morning, triggering chaos for the authorities as they battled to control hundreds of onlookers while they decided what to do with the whale-shark.
The Karachi Fish Harbour Authority (KFHA) took more than four hours to lift the seven-ton whale, which was found in shallow waters off the Gadani coast in Balochistan, fishermen said.
“It was dead when my men found it,” said Muhammad Yousuf, who owns the fibre boat that was used to tow the body to Karachi. “We will try to auction it. Let’s see what it fetches us.”
Part of the whale-shark’s fin was cut off and it was bleeding from the gills when the two heavy duty cranes pulled it up from the water. At first, the authorities tried to take it out of the water using a smaller crane but its pulley wires broke. A 35-ton crane had to do the job.
Later in the evening, the carcass of the whale was sold for Rs200,000 but only after stirring a controversy.
“We all thought it was auctioned for Rs1.7 million. Now it has been confirmed that Qasim Niazi, a fisheries dealer, bought it for much less than that,” said Hafeezur Rehman, an official at the fisheries auction hall.
The whale will be put on display for the public and the buyer will charge the visitors, he said. For three days the whale will be kept at the harbour’s auction hall.
Fishermen, who had gathered at the dockyards, spent the day speculating about the whale-shark. “It’s just a large Billi Mangra (catfish),” said one fisherman.
“No, no it’s an Andhi Mangra (blind dolphin),” said another.
The Bengali fishermen were quick to take the credit. “We want everyone to know that only the Bengalis could catch such a large fish,” said a man named Ahmed. “The men who had actually caught it were also Bengalis.”
But the fishermen who found the whale-shark were conspicuous by their absence. Others made up for a lack of fact by telling each other fictions, that a short four-foot tall Bengali fisherman had jumped onto the whale with a knife and killed it. Others said that diesel was poured on to its gills to suffocate it. An elderly fisherman with missing teeth boasted that whale-sharks had tried to swallow him twice and it couldn’t be killed.
So many men were spitting paan into the mud-filled water that it was hard to tell if the red was from the body or them. As soon as the whale-shark was placed on the harbour, more than 40 men and children climbed on to it, jumping up and down, clapping and laughing.
“Macchi ki khushi may panch ruppay ki mithai,” shouted M Mohsin, who said he had earned Rs500 selling sweets in half an hour, an amount that normally took him a day to earn.
KFHA Deputy Director Syed Intiqaab Hussain said there used to be natural museum where skeletons of sea animals were kept. But it was closed a couple of years back.
Another KFHA official, Shameer Khan, said that a whale-shark of this size could easily fetch Rs1.5 million on the international market. “The Chinese use the fins to make soup. The liver is also very expensive as the oil from it is used to make special medicines,” he said. The oil is mostly used to lubricate the bottom of the boats.
National Institute of Oceanography’s biologist Dr Hina Baig said that the whale-shark must have lost its way and become stuck in the shallow waters. “Whales use eco-sounds to find their way in water and if a large ship comes in the way, they get disoriented.”
Whales live in deep waters and rarely visit Pakistan’s relatively shallower coast, she said. “But the period between November and January is crucial since they come here to find food and get stuck.”
The Red tide is often the cause of the death of the whale-shark, she said. “But it is very hard to say what killed this whale.”
Marine biologist at the WWF Moazam Khan said that around 30 whale-sharks have been found dead in Pakistani waters in the past seven years. “No one kills them intentionally now.” He said that the whale shark is an endangered species and should not be killed in any case.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly mentioned that the whale-shark is a mammal and also ran an incorrect definition of Red Tide. The corrections have been made.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2012.