The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dead whale, but not up Thames

Mumbai, Feb. 15: The sea, the sand and the moon ' and a whale of a surprise.


Lingering Valentines on Mumbai’s Colaba beach were jolted back to reality when a 30-foot carcass rolled on to the beach.

It was a dead whale.

“We spotted a huge mass drifting in the sea. Within the next half-hour, the creature was washed ashore. It was past midnight and there were just a few people around. But within an hour there were hundreds of onlookers,” said Shweta Motwani, one of the first to spot the whale.

It was not the first time that a whale had washed ashore on the Mumbai coastline. But Shweta’s boyfriend Ajay had never seen one before. “I have lived in Mumbai all my life and have heard of dead whales and sharks being washed ashore. But this is the first time I saw one. It was very exciting,” he said.

If Colaba residents had little sympathy for the whale, Londoners mourned the one that swam up the Thames last month. Thousands had lined the banks of the river to watch divers and marine experts as they gathered round the stranded animal wondering how to return it to the open sea. The whale later died after the rescue efforts failed.

Back in Colaba, the excitement wore off soon, thanks to the stench. “We phoned the fire brigade and police, but neither responded till morning. The stench was unbearable,” said Vinod Kanojia, a resident.

While Kanojia and his fellow residents slammed the authorities for responding late, there were others who would have preferred civic officials and the police to go slow.

“When we reached the site, the creature had already been chopped into small pieces. We could not make out clearly whether it was a whale shark or a whale. But we did get a look at the vertebrae and that gives us the idea that it was a whale,” said Dr Sriram of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Mumbai.

The western Indian coastline and parts of the Tamil Nadu coast fall in the migratory route of some species of whales and whale sharks.

Dr B.F. Chhapgar, a whale expert at the Bombay Natural History Society, said in India such instances get “attention” if the carcass reaches the crowded shores of Mumbai, but “there may be many more” being washed ashore on the vast western coastline.

“It is not unusual for them to get stranded. These mammals use an echo-sounder to gauge the depth of the water. It is possible for them to get confused about the depth of water in case of a malfunction. They then get stranded,” he said.

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