No expert available for autopsy, blue whale buried after it dies at Revdanda

The 40-foot-long mammal had washed ashore the beach, 17 km from Alibaug, on Wednesday and died early last morning; it was buried at the same beach after a pit was dug using bulldozers and cranes

Authorities were at their wits’ ends when a blue whale washed ashore, alive, in the morning on Wednesday, at the Revdanda coast near Alibaug. Nearly a day after efforts to get it back into deep waters, the struggling beast breathed its last early morning yesterday.

Also read: 40-foot dead blue whale washes ashore near Mumbai coast

The 40-ft long blue whale died hours after it washed ashore at Alibaug beach. Pics/Mi Marathi live
The 40-ft long blue whale died hours after it washed ashore at Alibaug beach. Pics/Mi Marathi live

Having no expert at hand who could conduct an autopsy to find the cause of death, the whale had to be buried right at the beach. The 40-foot, 20-tonne blue whale had washed ashore the beach on the Revdanda coast in Raigad district around 10 am on Wednesday.

The authorities dug a 50-foot-deep pit on the beach and buried the whale in it, metres away from the coast
The authorities dug a 50-foot-deep pit on the beach and buried the whale in it, metres away from the coast

After noticing the huge mammal, the local fishermen informed the forest department and a team of the latter reached the spot. More than 50 villagers had even tried to push the whale back into the sea, but owing to its weight, they couldn’t get it to budge. The rescue efforts failed and the whale breathed its last at around 4 am yesterday.

Word spread like wildfire that a whale had washed ashore the beach, and hundreds turned up to see the miserable sight some even climbed atop the body and clicked pictures and selfies.

Autopsy
Ideally, such a death necessitates a post-mortem to determine the cause for death. However, Alibaug forest department officials claimed they didn’t have any expert for the task, and, hence, had no choice but to bury the mammal right at the beach.


More than 50 villagers had even tried to push the whale back into the sea, but owing to its weight, they couldn’t get it to budge. Pic/Tanveer Abdul Aziz

With the help of bulldozers, a 50-foot-deep pit was dug on the beach and the dead blue whale was lowered into its grave with the help of cranes. N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forest (CCF), Mangroves Cell, said, “An autopsy was not conducted as we don’t have experts for it.

We have, however, taken tissue samples. There was no fresh injury mark on the body.” “Sometimes it (death) is because of natural reasons and sometimes of internal problems or injury. There was an injury mark on the blue whale, but it was an old injury that had healed.

Whether this old injury led to internal damage is the question. The tissue samples will be sent for molecular DNA testing. It is confirmed that the mammal is a blue whale, but the DNA findings will help to identify the sub-species,” he added. Vasudevan also said that the mammal had come ashore by accident, but he couldn’t point out the exact reason.

Ketki Jog and Mihir Sule, members of the Konkan Cetacean Population Study, a research group on marine mammals, also visited the spot yesterday and collected some tissue samples. A few months ago, researchers working with this group had spotted live blue whales in the sea, close to the Konkan coast of Sindhudurg.

Forest department officials felt the cause of death could be because the mammal got stranded in shallow water and couldn’t go back into the sea.

'Need guidelines for such incidents'

Mumbai-based NGO RAWW has written a letter to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Prime Minister’s office and the environment minister, asking for their intervention in the matter. Officials from the NGO underscored the need to put in place certain guidelines during such incidents to know the true reason of these mammals dying, and also proper procedure to ensure coordination of various agencies involved.


It is confirmed that the mammal is a blue whale, but the DNA findings will help to identify the sub-species. Pic/Tanveer Abdul Aziz

Pawan Sharma, founder, RAWW, said, “The rising numbers of carcasses of marine wildlife washing ashore in and around Mumbai is an issue of concern. Hence, we have demanded, on an urgent basis, a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to deal with such cases.

In the last two months, we have been witnessing the deaths of many endangered marine wildlife like Olive Ridley turtles, humpback dolphins and whales.” The NGO has also stated in the letter that conducting a post-mortem is important so that the actual reason behind the death comes forward.

“Till date, the forest department is unable to understand the exact cause of death. Maximum carcasses were recovered late, almost after partial decay, due to which a detailed autopsy could not be performed. All our native wildlife is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

It is our duty and responsibility to investigate the facts and bring them in the public domain and counter the problems with joint conservation efforts. Wildlife conservation cannot happen without the involvement of the public, and distribution of information and creating awareness is vital to this goal. It is the forest department’s job to ensure all this, but it’s not happening,” he added.

Expert speak
This is the sixth such incident of a sea dweller’s death (see box). According to Dr Deepak Apte, chief operating officer, Bombay Natural History Society, “This whale must have been stranded because of cyclonic circulation and strong winds, along with the tides. Due to this, it might have come to shallow waters, and since it was too large, it must have gotten stranded and died.”

When questioned about the recent deaths of sea mammals, he explained, “Basically they all come ashore during this time for feeding and many of them get entangled in fishing nets. Pollution can also cause deaths sometimes; in other cases, it can be a propeller hit. In the past, it has been observed that fishing-related mortality is high.

The nets these fishermen lay remain in water for 8-10 hours, and when these mammals get caught in the nets, they drown. Being mammals, they have to come to the surface to breathe. The main reason behind the mortality of dolphins and turtles are fishing nets and large propellers.”

Past incidents

21 April 2015: The carcass of a dolphin was found at Marine Drive. Instead of conducting a post-mortem, BMC workers lifted it with a crane and discarded it in the Deonar dumpyard without informing the forest department

A dead dolphin was fished out from Marine Drive in April this year
A dead dolphin was fished out from Marine Drive in April this year

27 April 2015: Another dead dolphin washed ashore opposite the NSCI building. This time, the authorities did hand over the body to the Bombay Veterinary College for an autopsy

5 May 2015: Carcass of a dolphin and finless porpoise found at Versova beach. On the same day, a dead dolphin washes ashore at the Dadar chowpatty

17 May 2015: A dead sea turtle washed ashore on Versova beach

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