A 37-feet Bryde’s whale was washed ashore at Juhu beach on Thursday. Though the carcass was spotted on Thursday night, experts believe that the male species of the mammal weighing around 20 tonne, may have been dead for at least 2 or 3 days before beaching.
The incident comes weeks after 45 short-finned pilot whales were stranded along a 15-km beach stretch in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu.
In June last year, a 42-feet-long blue whale was washed ashore at the Revdanda coast, about 17 kms south of Alibaug in the neighbouring Raigad district.
While stranding of whales is not uncommon, mass beaching has baffled scientists for years. A marine expert said, “Whales usually swim together in a group. If one of them gets left behind or loses way for some reason, it begins swimming erratically. It could then lead to an injury or shock which can cause such incidents.”
The Bryde’s whale is known as a tropical whale because it usually lives in warmer waters and is found in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. Not much in terms of research has been done in India on this particular species.
Rahul Bhale, who works with the Juhu Beach Life Guard Association said, the whale was first sighted by some photographers at the beach around 8 pm. “It first seemed like a large thermocol block but as it kept coming closer, there was commotion at the beach because it looked like a massive fish,” Bhale claimed. Two of the lifeboat guards went in a small boat towards it. Within an hour, the carcass had washed ashore behind JW Marriott Hotel due to low tide.
The whale bore few injuries on its back, he added.
A call was immediately made to the Birhanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) disaster management cell as well as the police which alerted the forest department. Since it was late, efforts to remove the carcass was initiated only on Friday.
By Friday morning, officials could be seen deliberating about how could such a massive carcass be moved. “It was lying on its dorsal side. We could identify that it was a Bryde’s whale based on its fin. Since it had begun decomposing, many of its parts had begun to bloat and its black outer skin had started peeling off,” said a marine fisheries expert present at the location.
The news of the beaching had also led to much attention of citizens who came from far flung areas of the city to catch a glimpse of the mammal thereby making it difficult for the officials to manage the crowd. Even the stench emanating out of the decomposing body did not deter the public from trying to touch the whale and take photographs. “We heard that there was a big fish which had been washed ashore. When we heard of its size, we wanted to see it. This does not happen everyday in Mumbai,” said an excited 57-year-old Kirandevi, who had come with her family all the way from Mahim.
A rope which was being used to cordon off the area where the carcass lay, was breached several times while forest department officials tried to explain the crowd that inhaling the air filled with bacteria of the whale’s remains was not good for the children and urged them to leave the place. Though the parents heard them but they too responded with pleading for one view of the whale for their children. “When else will they be able to see such a sight,”asked a woman who had brought three of her grandchildren .
Though the forest department officials had planned to conduct an autopsy of the whale at Moregaon, 2km away from the spot at the shore, they could not do so and had to abort the plan as the trailer on which it was lifted by two cranes got stuck in the sand as soon as it started to move.
Assistant conservator of forests, Makarand Ghodke, who supervised the operation, could be heard reprimanding people from clicking selfies with the mammal. “Posing with an endangered species is an offence,” he kept telling enthusiastic citizens who clicked many selfies with the dead mammal.
“We could not conduct an autopsy because the whale had severely decomposed. We have taken genetic samples through tissues. The whale was buried at Juhu beach itself,”Ghodke told The Indian Express. Members from the pathology department of the Bombay Veterinary College, CMFRI were present during the entire process.