The whale shark carcass on display at the Karachi harbour last week caused quite a stir, but it is heartening to note that the relevant authorities have acted in a responsible way and a team of experts is now working to preserve the carcass for research and educational purposes. The case 35-foot fish found off the Gadani coast of Balochistan was mired in controversy. An enterprising dealer became its ‘owner’ after buying the whale shark for a sum of Rs200,000. He planned to recoup his investment by putting the fish on display for the public which came eager to catch a glimpse of the wonder. Over 3,000 people paid Rs20 each to see the dead creature when it went up on show at the Karachi Harbour auction hall. But those, who actually found the fish, complained that they had only been paid a few thousand rupees for his pains and had been, in the manner of all fishermen in Pakistan, exploited by the middleman. On February 8, the Karachi Fish Harbour Authority realised belatedly that the fish was government property and compensated stated the middleman. However, the fishermen who caught the creature have reason to be upset: not only did they not receive any recognition for their efforts, their fishing permits have also been confiscated.
Unfortunately, these fishermen have never been given any training on the conservation of marine species and are therefore not in a position to know how to act if they accidentally catch endangered animals. Initial reports suggested that the fishermen caught the fish alive, not dead, and if this was indeed the case, it is bad news. Still, it is commendable that a team from the Pakistan Museum of Natural History has started dissecting the whale shark for the purpose of research. Plans are underway to reconstruct the fish for display in a museum. Experts say that preserving it can cost over Rs2.5 million, given that it has cartilage instead of bones, so clearly government support in this would be good.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2012.