Concerns Over Increased Whale Shark Stranding Along Andhra Pradesh’s Coast

Environmental News from India:

  • The fishing community in Andhra Pradesh, along the Bay of Bengal, have spotted an increasing number of whale sharks, stranded on the coast, over a period of approximately a year.
  • Rescue efforts to release the stranded whale sharks damage the fishing nets and impacts the livelihoods of the fishers.
  • Whale sharks are under pressure from infrastructure development, transport and fishing. These pressures are pushing whale sharks to venture into territories where they have not been documented before.

“One February evening in 2022, a fisherman alerted me of a massive sea creature trapped in their fishing net on Vizag’s shore,” narrates Srikanth Mannepuri, photographer and wildlife conservationist from Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh. It was a stranded whale shark on Vizag’s shores. Mannepuri, having been involved in two rescue operations of stranded whale sharks, immediately knew the challenge that lay ahead.

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is a shark species and not a whale. It can grow up to 50 feet in length. This largest shark species is listed as an ‘Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). India has fewer laws and regulations protecting sharks and rays than other Asian nation. Currently, Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, protects ten species of sharks. This includes the whale shark as well, making the act of capturing and/or killing it a crime.

When Mannepuri received the news about the stranded whale shark, he immediately called Vizag’s District Forest Officer (DFO) Anant Shankar, who gave the required clearances and support to rescue and guide the stranded whale shark back to where it belonged.

“As soon as we confirmed it was a whale shark, I called the DFO. His directive was simple; to guide the whale shark to safety, sparing no effort and expense,” said Mannepuri.

The team consisting of 40 local fishermen, along with Mannepuri, managed to successfully push the whale shark to the sea after untangling it from the fishing net. The photographer said, “After quickly freeing the shark from the net, armed with a small fishing boat and just ropes, twenty men on each side dragged and pushed it back to the sea. It was no easy task as the whale shark kept lashing at us to free itself.”

Since 2021, the fishermen in Andhra Pradesh (AP) have noticed an increase in whale shark sightings along the coast of Visakhapatnam (also known as Vizag). Researchers say that not much is known about this largely depleted species, making it all the rarer to spot it. But fishery experts, researchers and local fishermen say that until late 2007, the whale shark was a rare visitor to the coastal Andhra region (East Godavari River Estuarine Ecosystem), but the number of sharks has increased in recent years.

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Source: Mongabay

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