Despite the stink that can only accompany a decomposing whale shark, nearly 3,000 people paid 20 rupees to catch a glimpse of the famed fish, perhaps the largest Karachi has seen in recent times.
The body has been put on show for three days by Haji Qasim, a fish dealer who bought it for a paltry Rs200,000, after it surfaced in Pakistani waters and was hauled in to the Karachi harbour a day earlier. As people pushed and shoved to make their way to see it, a man selling tickets said that he had managed to earn Rs50,000 by just 2pm. “I am sure that by this time tomorrow we will earn triple that amount,” he said. “The children are allowed to see the fish free but the adults have to pay.”
The whale shark was placed on the floor of a makeshift marquee but as there was no ice to preserve the body the miasma enveloped the entire area. The viewing disintegrated into a circus as men, women and children clambered on top of it in order to take a closer picture. Children prodded and poked it mercilessly.
According to some fishermen it is roughly 30 to 35 feet long but no official measurement could come by as no experts went to examine it. According to National Geographic, the whale shark is the largest fish in the sea and can grow up to 40 feet long.
When asked why the fish was still bleeding, its owner Qasim said that he believed it was still fresh. In fact, the response had been so overwhelming from the public that he plans to put it on show somewhere in Clifton. He could not say exactly where or if he has contacted the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation or the Cantonment Board Clifton. He felt that it would be good to display for another two days after which he would send it to Sri Lanka.
The KMC’s director general for parks, Liaquat Ali Khan, was one of the government officials who came to see the fish. He felt that it should have been preserved and properly displayed. He added that he would talk to the marine academy and ask if something could be done.
Ever since the fish was brought to Karachi, different versions of its appearance have been floating around. Earlier, it was believed that the whale shark became stuck in a net off Gadani but now the authorities claim that it was found 35 nautical miles from Karachi – close to the Pakistan-India sea limits.
The fishermen who were responsible for bringing it in, were missing from the scene for the second day as well. People at the harbour speculated that they had returned to sea but this could not be independently confirmed.
Muhammad Ashraf, a resident of Mohajir Camp, had come with his daughter and grandchildren to see the fish as he had heard that it was from one of the world’s largest species. “We decided to come see it the minute we saw it on television,” he said. “The children were really excited since they haven’t seen anything like this before.” But he was upset with the way the fish was displayed as the crowd around it was thick and they couldn’t get close enough for a look. “The people in the front were not moving,” he said. “They were just standing there and did not let anyone go near the fish. We had to push our way through to touch it.”
Meanwhile, on the sidelines, other fishermen grumbled. They stood outside the tent and griped that when they had caught a bigger fish five years ago no one had come to see it.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2012.