Dead whale washes ashore at Juhu beach: Timeline, facts and more

Jan 30, 2016, 08:55 IST | Shailesh Bhatia

With yet another dead whale washing ashore on Juhu beach on Thursday night, mid-day reports on how lifeguards, coast guard, forest and fisheries department swung into action

First sighting
Even in death, the gigantic 40-foot Bryde's whale cut a majestic figure on Juhu beach, where it had washed ashore on Thursday night.

Also read: 40-foot whale washes ashore on Juhu beach

Large crowds gathered to look at and photograph the 40-ft creature that was identified as a male Bryde’s whale and weighed nearly 20 tonnes. Pics/Swarali Purohit
Large crowds gathered to look at and photograph the 40-ft creature that was identified as a male Bryde’s whale and weighed nearly 20 tonnes. Pics/Swarali Purohit

Yesterday, mid-day had reported how the whale’s appearance drew curious looks from passers-by, who thought the ‘large, white halo’ might be an inflated plastic bag, or a large balloon that had fallen into the sea. It was when the waves carried the body to the shore that people were stunned to see that it was a dead whale.

Disaster tourism
All the way from Thursday night to the time the whale was lifted onto a truck and taken away, crowds gathered to get a closer look of the giant creature and take a few snapshots to boot.

Word spread in no time at all, and the five lifeguards from Juhu Beach Lifeguard Association spent the entire night managing the crowds that gathered to catch a glimpse of the mammoth creature, and perhaps click a selfie with it.

The public excitement was reminiscent of the time when 25-year-old container ship MV Wisdom was stranded at the same beach in 2011, or like the 2003 episode when another whale had washed ashore there.

Mammoth operation
A massive operation was put in place to lift the whale – weighing nearly 20 tonnes – and move it to another spot on the beach, where it was buried.

About 30-40 officials and volunteers from the Juhu Life Guard Association, the Coast Guard and the Forest and Fisheries department were deployed and a helicopter kept watch from above as two cranes were pressed into service to lift and move the giant carcass.

Species confirmed
Wildlife biologist Supriya Jhunjhunwala inspected the carcass and identified it as a Bryde’s whale (pronounced ‘broo-dess’) and said it was a moderately sized male specimen; the species can grow up to 50 feet and live 50-70 years.

Instead of teeth, the whale has baleen — a filter-feeder system inside the mouth that looks like teeth on a comb
Instead of teeth, the whale has baleen — a filter-feeder system inside the mouth that looks like teeth on a comb

She added that this species fell under the category of baleen whales, as they have baleen instead of teeth. Baleen are a sort of filter-feeder system inside the mouth of the whales, which takes in water through the mouth and then pushes it back out through the baleen, which trap smallest marine life like plankton, shrimp and crustaceans (main food source for whales).

Whale finds a home
Wildlife biologist Supriya Jhunjhunwala said the state Forest Department will preserve the skeleton of the whale and display it at the natural history museum at the Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Park being developed at Airoli. For this, the FD is collaborating with the Indo-German Biodiversity Programme under the Indo German Development Cooperation (GIZ), said Jhunjhunwala, who is also the state’s technical expert and adviser for the Indo-German Biodiversity Programme.Chief Conservator of Forests N Vasudevan confirmed this news.

Injured by ships?
“These are not really unusual events. However, the whale was injured. Natural beaching can’t be avoided but accidental deaths can be. The waters near Mumbai’s shore, in particular, are very hazardous for large whales. Konkan also falls on the same route. The Mumbai coast has too much ship traffic and the whale might have got injured because of ship propellers,” said Dr Deepak Apte, director of the Bombay Natural History Society.

- Inputs by Ranjeet Jadhav


Jan 28 8.30 pm
Juhu lifeguards are the first to spot the mysterious ‘large white halo’

9.35 pm
Neville David, president of the Juhu Lifeguards Association tips off this reporter about the whale sighting

10 pm
A crowd gathers to speculate on what the white halo floating in the sea could be

10.15 pm
Due to poor light condition, it was hard to make out what the object was, so few cops in the neighbourhood were requested to drive closer and flash their vehicle headlamps

10.30 pm
The object was identified as a giant marine creature, thought likely to be a whale from its body proportions and features - the horizontal tail distinguished it from sharks

Jan 29
A larger crowd gathers to glimpse the giant creature

11 am
Nearly 50 policemen and Maharashtra Maritime Board guards had a tough time controlling the ever swelling crowd. A Coast Guard helicopter circled the area, monitoring the situation.

11.30 am
Scientific teams from the Fisheries and the Forest departments took tissue samples for lab analysis

1.30 am
The BMC brought in two cranes to haul the massive carcass onto a trailer, to be taken towards the site where it was buried

Reasons for whale beachings
Scientists agree that individual strandings are often caused by isolated incidents such as sickness, injury, or old age, but the other factors include:

1. Seismic activity on the seabed, due to under water earthquakes or volcanoes can cause whales to move towards the coast in distress

2. Whales swim against the waves to trap schools of fish. When the tide ebbs, they can get beached on the shore

3. Attack by more ferocious carnivores from the deep sea, like sharks may force the whale to swim to shore

4. Ship propellers often cause injury to whales, which are then carried to shore by waves

5. They rely on their inbuilt sonar for underwater communication and navigation, but rising noise pollution in the sea could interfere with their senses

6. High presence of plastic in the sea could choke the mammals. This was the reason for the death of 45 whales in Tuticorin recently

7. Whales often travel in pods or groups but this goes wrong if the leader runs aground

8. Temperature fluctuations, owing to climate change, can confuse a whale or force it to explore new waters in search of food

9. A study hinted towards a tendency of whales to deliberately hurt themselves but this has never been proven

Visitor from 'Jurassic Park'
In an earlier episode, another whale had washed ashore at Juhu in 2003, although it was much smaller than this one. Sized at 20 feet, the whale was in a highly decomposed condition and had spots on its side like a Whale Shark — the largest living fish species. The whale was dubbed ‘Jurassic Park ki machhli’. Last year, Revas, in Raigad, witnessed the death of a 42-ft blue whale that was stranded on the beach for 10 long hours.

Scientific curiosity
It wasn’t just passers-by who were curious about the marine visitor, and last morning, several scientists had turned up to examine the carcass and collect samples for analysis.

The whale’s mysterious appearance and death had them worried, particularly as this comes fresh on the heels of the death of 45 whales which got beached in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu a couple of weeks ago. The tissue samples from the whale will be sent to the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) in Versova.

“In huge mammals like whales, an investigation is required to pinpoint details pertaining to the exact sub-species and probable cause of death. This investigation has to be done on a molecular level. Further details can only be shared when the lab results are out,” said VV Singh, principal scientist at CMFRI, Mumbai.

The researchers added that the whale’s body had ruptured under the pressure from its blubber, which is otherwise held intact by the pressure and temperature of the icy waters in the ocean.

Did you know?
Bryde's whales are named after Johan Bryde, who helped build the first whaling factory in Durban. This is ironic, since most baleen species are threatened by commercial whaling.

Whale products
Products made from various bits of whale include:
>> Margarine and cooking oil (from whale oil)
>> Lamp oil (from sperm whale oil)
>> Candles, soaps, cosmetics and perfumes (from sperm whale oil)
>> Corsets and umbrellas (from whalebone)
>> Whale-meat for human consumption
>> Animal feed (from meat)
>> Fertiliser (from bone meal)
>> String for tennis racquets (from tendons)

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