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43-ft-long whale washes up dead on Vasai beach. Watch video

Mumbai: Despite challenges including intermittent rain and massive efforts from authorities and locals, the carcass of a 43-foot suspected Bryde’s whale, which washed up on the beach on Tuesday afternoon, was buried on the beach late on Wednesday evening, forest department officials said.

Although the carcass of the whale was spotted on Tuesday, efforts to remove it could not begin until the following morning due to heavy rainfall. It was initially planned to take the carcass away, but after the machine became stuck twice in the sand, officials decided to bury it on the spot by digging a five-feet deep pit late on Wednesday – more than 24 hours after it was found.

A local said that over 15 state forest personnel, local disaster management personnel, and volunteers were involved in burying the whale. ‘The digging of the pit was interrupted many times throughout the day because of the rainfall. In addition, the carcass was within the high-tide line, making it inaccessible during the high tide on Wednesday afternoon. The water had also gushed inside the pit, forcing us to restart the work. We had started digging the pit at 8am but the work was completed only by Wednesday evening,’ said one of the personnels who were assigned to the job.

The whale had died before being washing ashore the beach, according to experts. This tropical mammal normally lives in warm ocean waters such as those found in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. So far, India has not done much research on the species. Last year, in January, the corpse of a 57-feet Bryde’s whale washed up on Murud beach in Ratnagiri; it too had been buried at the site.

For DNA analysis, the state forest department collected tissue samples from a decomposed carcass of a whale which, researchers said, will reveal the whale’s gender and species. ‘The whale was lying upside down and we could not move it to assess what species it was. Dependent on the measurements, morphology and blade count, we have assessed it to be Bryde’s whale. I have also asked the staffers to click detailed pictures for better assessment and to understand the injuries, if any, that was sustained by the cetacean,’ said Harshal Karve, marine biologist with the Mangrove Foundation.

The cause of death of the mammal could not be determined, but experts suspect that a rise in shipping activity, being hit by trawlers, plastic pollution, and fishing hooks, among other reasons, may have contributed to its demise. The carcasses typically wash ashore during monsoon season because of the strong winds. ‘The carcass of the whale was intact; however, it was in an advanced state of decomposition because of which postmortem was not possible. It was in a putrefied state and opening up the carcass was not recommended due to health risks,’ Karve added.

Authorities and volunteers also found it difficult to keep locals from the rope-enclosed area. Officials from the Forest Department explained to the crowd that inhaling the air filled with bacteria could be harmful. Experts said buoyancy, current flow, wind flow, and tide could be factors behind the sighting of whale carcasses in the region. Cetacean strandings have been reported along the Konkan coast, especially in Ratnagiri district. Beaching, or cetacean stranding, is a phenomenon in which whales and dolphins, among others, get stranded on land, usually on a beach.

Several marine animals, including dolphins, porpoises, turtles, and whales, have been found along the Konkan coast, but their cause of death has largely been unknown. Usually, by the time the forest department responds to an incident, the animal’s body has already decomposed, making postmortem impossible.

Karve further said, ‘Checking for external injuries and conducting an autopsy of the whale is not an easy job because of the sheer size of the cetacean. We conduct external morphological analysis as part of which we take photos of the carcass from the dorsal side to check if the animal had been starving for a long period. However, in this particular case, when it was not lying on the dorsal side, morphological analysis is also not possible.’

In the absence of a standard operating procedure (SOP) for beaching or stranding a cetacean, the veterinarian or range forest officers present at the site decide whether to move the body or bury it. ‘There is no SOP stating the depth of the pit or steps to complete the process. In almost all cases of stranding of the whales, they are buried on the beach itself,’ said Neenu Somraj, deputy conservator of forests for Maharashtra Mangrove Foundation.


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