An elusive species of whale washed ashore onto Bakkhali beach in South 24 Parganas, taking the local fishermen and foresters by surprise early on Sunday morning. Later, the whale — 5.3-metre long — was identified as a Cuvier’s beaked whale — only the fifth record from India and probably the longest of these five records. State’s chief wildlife warden V K Yadav said that they have taken the carcass for post mortem to the local range office.
“We spoke to an ecologist studying marine cetaceans in India, Dipani Sutaria, and she has identified it as a Cuvier’s beaked whale. We will be doing genetic analysis of the species through ZSI,” Yadav added.
Sutaria, also a member of Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Network of India, confirmed that it’s a female Cuvier’s beaked whale.
“Since they are deep-diving cetaceans, highly dependent on sonar for navigation and catching prey, they are sensitive towards sounds of seismic survey and naval exercises. They are considered elusive since they spend most time in waters deeper than 500-1,000m,” she added.
Earlier records of the whale are from Maharashtra in 2019, Gujarat in 2015, Tamil Nadu in 2014 and Lakshadweep in 1982.
Divisional forest officer of South 24 Parganas forest division Milan Mondal said that they spotted the carcass around 6.30 in the morning. “We initially thought it to be a Gangetic dolphin. Its length is 5.3 metres. We have initiated the post mortem to find out more details. There was no external injury marks,” he said.
As per Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Network of India records, a Cuvier’s beaked whale may grow to a length of 7.5m and weigh three tons. “But, weights of 5.6 tons for males and 6.5 tons for females have been reported. They are rarely found near the coast. They feed on squid, deep-water fish, crabs and starfish. The species has stranded in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. In Sri Lanka, it has been found in fishermen’s catches also. Sightings of the species have been made off the coasts of Sri Lanka and Oman. They are widely distributed, being found in all but the highest latitudes in all oceans,” said the data.
On being asked about the reason for death, an official said that it can be natural, the weather and even deep-sea fishing-related activities. “The post-mortem should also find out if there is fishing net or plastic in its stomach,” he added.