By Faiza Ilyas
KARACHI: A rare species of whale was recently caught by fishermen, who were searching for tuna about 120 nautical miles south-west of Karachi.
It was identified as a pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps) about 8.2 feet long, weighing about 400kg.
The specific species is of the smallest whales found at the outer continental shelf and is one of the three species of toothed whale in the sperm whale family.
The marine mammal was later discarded by fishermen led by Saeed Zaman, captain of the fishing boat Al-Fahim.
“It got entangled in a gillnet and died before fishermen could make any effort to rescue it,” said World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan’s technical adviser on marine fisheries Mohammad Moazzam Khan.
The species known from the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans was mostly observed through stranding on beaches from different parts of the world, he added.
According to Mr Khan, it’s the first authentic record of the specific whale in Pakistan’s waters as the past two records of its occurrence based on stranding at Sonmiani beach and near Churna Island were unconfirmed.
“Whales and dolphins are sensitive animals and they often die when they get entangled in fishing nets as they cannot come to the surface for breathing. The pygmy sperm whale feeds on deep-sea squids and crabs,” he pointed out.
Ten whales (three baleen whales and seven toothed whales), nine marine dolphins and one freshwater dolphin have been reported from Pakistan, he said.
The WWF-P is currently running a voluntary observer programme under which new records of whales and dolphins are being documented. It’s also training fishermen on how to rescue and release accidentally caught endangered marine species.
So far, 15 whale sharks, three manta rays, two sunfish and one longman’s beaked whale, an extremely rare species, were rescued and released over the past six months.
The pygmy sperm whale is listed in the Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora that means its trade is allowed only through a special permission given by the international organisation.
“Kogia breviceps is rarely seen at sea; it tends to live a long distance from shore and has inconspicuous habits.
“There is considerable uncertainty about the status of this species, which may span a range from Least Concern to a Threatened category. There is no information on abundance or on trends in global abundance. As a relatively uncommon species it is potentially vulnerable to low-level threats and a 30pc global reduction over three generations cannot be ruled out,” says the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species website.