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Fin whale caught in gill net killed by fishermen in Pakistan

05/10/2009 09:14:32

Fin whale in Pakistan killed in gill nets. Photo credit A Rahim/PWP

Stranded Fin whale found in Pakistan. By Abdul Rahim, Pakistan Wetlands Program

September 2009. A 45 feet long sub adult Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) washed up on the beach of East bay in Gwader, Pakistan. The whale appeared to have some injuries on the fluke and on its head and the cause of mortality was concluded to be due to accidental capture in gill nets.

20 Cetacean species in Pakistani waters
There are twenty Cetacean species (whales and Dolphins) recorded in Pakistani marine waters and more than twelve species are recorded off the coast of Balochistan. The Balochistan coast has great potential for fisheries and fishermen are currently using various fishing methods to maximize their catch. These methods include long lines, harpoon, cast nets, bottom and surface trawling, gill nets, encircling nets and wire net fishing.

Some of these fishing methods are known to have adverse effects, not only on marine mammals caught as bycatch, but also on the rest of the marine ecology, destroying benthic flora and fauna (sea weed or sponges), corals, sponges and molluscs. It has been recorded that these unsustainable fishing methods are destroying cetaceans of the region, especially dolphins and whales as by catch. A number of stranded dolphins and whales are observed every year on the coastline of Balochistan and this mortality usually occurs due to unsustainable fishing methods. Shark fishing is another threat to cetaceans in Balochistan, as fishermen tend to use dolphin flesh as bait for shark fishing. Biotoxins are a further factor causing death of cetaceans.

Fin whales
A large Fin whale can reach 75 feet in length, second only to Blue whale. The Fin whale is a relatively slender, streamlined species with a pointed head and a prominent dorsal fin positioned three-quarters of the way along the back. The upper side of the body is dark grey, often with pale chevrons behind the blow-hols. At close range, the asymmetrical colouring of the lower jaw is diagnostic: the left lower lip being dark, the right being white. The tall, columnar blow often reaches a height of 8m and takes several seconds to dissipate.

Fin whales only very rarely raise their tail flukes on diving. They are usually observed singly or in pairs, sometimes in small pods and occasionally in large aggregations of up to 100 animals where food is plentiful. They are very fast swimmers and have been regularly recorded breaching. Fin whales are widely distributed throughout the world, but appear to be more common in sub-polar and cool temperate waters in the summer months, moving to warmer latitudes in the winter to mate and calve.

Killed when tangled in gill nets
Local fishermen said that they had observed this whale in local waters the previous week and later captured it in gill nets. When a whale gets entangled in their gill nets, fishermen sever its tail and hit its head in order to incapacitate it/ kill it.

The Ministry of Environment's Pakistan Wetlands Program, MCWC site office, conducted a broad research survey on stranded Cetaceans and their threats. On the basis of this study, the Pakistan Wetlands Program is trying to develop a better management plan for conservation of dolphins and whale populations in the Balochistan coast.

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