Earlier this week, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) -Pakistan confirmed a killer whale was spotted near Karachi’s Churna Island beach.
Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries), WWF-Pakistan confirmed the report of the sighting and said, “it is of immense importance as no killer whale was ever reported during previous cetacean surveys which were initiated in 2003.”
He reiterated that killer whales are most widely distributed marine mammals, found in nearly all parts of the oceans. They prefer colder temperatures, and they have also been sighted at places with lower densities in tropical, subtropical and offshore waters.
“However, these whales are of rare occurrence in the Arabian Sea. Scientifically the killer whale is known as Orcinus orca and belongs to the order Odontoceti, which includes all toothed whales and dolphins,” the press release read.
“Killer whales are usually found in deep oceanic waters, however, the depth of water where the animal was sighted is only 72 metres.”
WWF’s Khan also revealed that the recording of an orca in the waters off Churna Island indicates rich marine biodiversity in the area and warrants early declaration of Churna Island as “Marine Protected Area” so that such “rare animals can be protected.”
Killer whales are known to be highly social animals that are present primarily in stable social groups. The global population of orcas is estimated to be about 50,000 individuals of which about 25,000 are known from Antarctic waters.
“Because of the killer whale’s intelligence, trainability, striking appearance, playfulness, it is one of the most favourite mammals for exhibits at aquaria and aquatic theme parks,” the statement said.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Umair Shahid, North Indian Ocean Coordinator, WWF-Pakistan said, “This is one of the most important finds in the Arabian Sea and in particular Pakistan.”
When asked whether this sighting posed any threat, he confidently replied, “It is important that the public and potential tourists be aware that they are in the animal’s habitat, and behave accordingly, but there is no need for panic or to have added safety measures incorporated. It is a social and friendly species and generally does not have a hostile attitude”.
The unprecedented sighting of the killer whale is to be the only unusual wildlife activity to have occurred in Pakistan in 2017. “Sightings of Arabian humpback whales and increased number of reports are unusual but also positive and healthy signs of life.”
The 1.5km-by-1km Churna Island is a popular choice, but it is also precisely because of this reason that it has been exposed to dangers. When asked what measures can effectively be employed to ensure that animals near the region are protected, Shahid said, “Reduce bycatch, minimise waste (plastics), reduce underwater noise, control marine debris from entering in the sea, and most important raise awareness and educate the public on oceans and the life it supports.”
Earlier, a number of skeletal remains and beached blue whales were reported from Pakistani waters. The last such dead specimen was observed at Khuddi Creek along the coast of Sindh in August 2014.
Rab Nawaz, senior director programmes of WWF-Pakistan, lauded the efforts of fishermen in recording the clip. He said Churna Island and its immediate environment are biodiversity hot spots and are abodes for large whales, whale sharks and sunfish apart from being a major coral habitat, which needs protection.