In its journey from becoming a dead fish on the Karachi shore to a national heritage, the 40.1-foot-long whale shark was transferred to the Pakistan Museum of Natural History here on Friday.
Once it is preserved – a process that will take up to six months and cost Rs2.5 million — the fish will become a national heritage, said the Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) in a press briefing.
An official from the PSF said the body of the fish has been moved to the museum.
PSF Chairman Dr Manzoor Hussain Soomro told The Express Tribune the whale was chemically processed before it was sent to Islamabad.
The preservation will include taxidermy (stuffing or mounting a dead animal’s hide for display), which will cost Rs2.5 million. In addition to that, the whale shark’s skeleton would separately be treated with chemicals.
The process is being carried out by a team of experts, who say it will keep for the next 500 years. “It will be a while before the whale shark is put on public display, as the entire preservation process could take up to six months,” Soomro said.
The fish, he said, was of a rare species and a team of American experts have also shown interest in conducting research on it.
According to the marine fisheries department, the female whale shark is approximately 40.1 feet long and weighs around 15 tons.
The shark, found dead in the shallow waters off the Gadani coast in Balochistan, was four to five months pregnant. The department’s director general, Shaukat Hussain, believed the fish might have died of a natural death.
However contamination is a more likely explanation for the death, said Dr Hina Baig from the Institute of Oceanography. She said whale sharks can live up to 100 years and their age can be determined by their backbone.
Hussain said this is the second largest fish to be found in Pakistan. In 1947, a 41.5 feet whale shark was found off Karachi’s coast.
According to WWF Marine Biologist Moazam Khan, around 30 whale sharks have been found dead in Pakistani waters in the past seven years. “No one kills them intentionally now.”
To be sent back?
Karachi Fish Harbour Authority Managing Director Abdul Ghani Jokhio said that the museum had committed to send the body back to Karachi.
“We had expressed the desire that it should be placed either in Karachi or Hyderabad,” he said. “I don’t want to turn this into a political issue but this is what we really want.”
He said that the Sindh government had given the museum permission on the condition that it would be sent back to the coastal city.
*With additional input from Karachi City Desk
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2012.