The whale shark carcass that was found on Baga beach on Thursday morning had it’s tail and fins chopped off, indicating that these body parts had been removed to be sold on the black market, for making shark fin soup.
This has enraged marine biologists, conservationists and the local diver community, who say that the endangered whale shark — the largest extant fish species that poses no threat to humans — has its breeding and feeding ground off the Gujarat coast and often passes Goan shores while migrating south. They point to a lack of awareness among the local fisher folk as a possible reason for the shark’s death.
Aaron Savio Lobo, from the IUCN SSC Marine Conservation Committee, says, “I believe the whale shark was caught accidentally while the fishers had their nets set for their regular catch. This fish are not common in our waters and it’s unfortunate that it had it’s fins severed. Incidental capture of endangered marine animals can pose a big threat to their populations. These include sea turtles, dolphins, sea snakes, and in this case a whale shark.”
Puja Mitra, conservationist, says, “The incident of a young, juvenile whale shark found with its fins cut on Baga beach yesterday, is very unfortunate, as this species has a low breeding rate. The whale shark is listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List and is accorded the highest protection under the Wildlife Protection Act of India by being classified as a Schedule I species, same as tigers, whales, dolphins and elephants. It’s a gentle species and is extremely vulnerable to commercial fishing often being caught as bycatch.”
Professionals point out that there’s a lack of awareness among locals about the importance of whale sharks in the ecosystem. Puja adds, “Sensitisation and awareness efforts are needed to educate both stakeholders and general public about marine wildlife so that such incidents can be prevented and communities can work together to protect these species and their habitat.”
Clinton Fernandes, an avid freediver and rescue worker, says, “Most of the people in Goa don’t even know about the kind of marine species we have in our oceans. Whale sharks have been passing our waters for years. I’ve dived with the species at several places around the world, and I’ve seen it’s behaviour and understand the ecological importance. It’s sad to see the fish washed ashore with fins cut. It is important that the officials take the culprits to task. People need to find out about the various endangered marine species and understand why fishing has to be sustainable. We also need to sensitise our fishing community.”
How can incidents like these be avoided in the future? Aaron believes that the fisheries and forest department need to work together to create awareness among the fishermen who go to sea. “Sustained capacity development and communication programmes involving the boat owner associations are necessary to raise awareness about the conservation of marine species. This can then trickle down to the fishing community. It would be difficult to target these programmes at fishermen alone. This is because most of the fishing crew working in Goa are migrants and in a constant state of flux. These initiatives have to be made systemic.”