The sea was wild, the sky still dark and the fishermen on their small boat were too scared to free the 16-feet-long whale shark caught in their nets 15 kilometres from the shore.
We were afraid our launch would have overturned and we would have drowned, they said. By the time they did manage to wrest it out of the net it was already too late. But the fishermen tied a rope around it and slowly dragged it to the shore at Abdur Rehman Goth, Hawks Bay.
“Another boat joined us and helped tug it back,” Imam Bakhsh, one of the fishermen on the boat, said. “It was a very slow journey because our boats are small with weak engines.”
Even though the fishermen went through the trouble of bringing the shark back, they do not think the whale shark is important in terms of profit.
“The only use of the fish is its liver,” Nazar, another fishermen, told Express News. “So we took out its liver and will use its oil to rub on our boats.”
The shark is around 16-feet long and weighs about one and a half to two tons.
“It is unfortunate [how the shark died],” said Dr Ghulam Akbar of the World Wildlife Fund, Pakistan.
According to Akbar, the fishermen use ‘sua nets’, which are made of a silky material and are quite strong. The fish is called ‘Behran’ in Balochi and ‘Andhi Magar’ in Sindhi. Its meat is not used and the only thing sold is its liver oil, he added.
The law dictates that while fishermen are not allowed to hunt down these fish, if they are killed accidentally then the men can use it as they see fit.
Every once in a while a dead whale washes up on the shore. Usually they are killed when they get caught in the nets of deep-sea trawlers. Since these species of fish have limited market value, the fishermen just let them return to the sea. The waves, meanwhile, often bring the dead sharks to shore.
While the Sindh wildlife conservator, Hussain Bux Bhagat, said that the department had sent its team to the site, where they were looking after the situation, earlier in the day the dead fish served as a makeshift surfboard for excited children. Balancing on the slippery fish, the children shrieked with delight as waves swept them off while crowds of people thronged the beach to watch the spectacle.
“We will try our best to bring the shark back to our laboratory tonight,” Bhagat told The Express Tribune. “Our team has been sent to look after the shark and if not tonight we will definitely have it with us by Tuesday morning.”
The Sindh wildlife department plans to carry out a post-mortem of the shark with the help of Karachi zoo’s equipment. They also hope to preserve the whale, or at least its skeleton, at their laboratory.
The last time Bhagat remembers such an event occurring was around five years ago when a 50-foot whale washed up on the beach. The skeleton of that whale is still preserved at the department.
Eventually they hope to showcase both skeletons either at their laboratory or the museum, which will be set up at their main office in Saddar.
“The Sindh government has given us all the funds, we hope to renovate our office, set up the museum and expand our laboratory very soon,” he said.
Dr Akbar expressed his hopes while talking to The Express Tribune, of acquiring custody of the whale shark’s skeleton. “We can exhibit it at our wetland centre on Sandspit and use it for educational purposes,” he said. “We will request the Sindh wildlife department.”
Meanwhile, Bhagat maintained that the department would want to keep the shark but the main purpose is to use it for education and research.
“If the WWF requests us and we think they have better facilities then we will consider handing over the shark to them,” he said reluctantly.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2010.