For the first time in nearly a century, blue whales have been observed off the coast of India’s Maharashtra state. Indian researchers have spotted the pair, a mother and calf, about 3km offshore at a depth of 15m the Sindhudurg coast in Maharashtra.
The five-member research team is part of a Cetacean Population Study team under a United Nations Development Programme project on Mainstreaming Coastal and Marine Biodiversity. They had been surveying the waters over a six month period for humpback dolphins when the whales were observed.
“It is estimated that there are only 9,000 such whales in the oceans. They are the largest mammals in the world, even bigger than the Dinosaurs but still they are least studied mammals,” said N Vasudevan, Maharashtra’s Chief Conservator of the Forest and Head of Mangroves Cell.
Why are they there
Blue whale sightings are quite rare and the exact reason for them being near the coast is not yet known. “It needs to be studied further for which additional funds would be required. Assistance would also be welcome from international experts. Their presence is only matter of conjecture but it could be triggered by climate change. It also could be that they are migrating from the waters of Sri Lanka, which has a very large colony of blue whales,” Vasudevan said.
Research team member Ketki Jog said the whales usually feed on shoals of sardines as the fish move close to shore. “We want to work here and this research will continue. These sightings will give a fillip to research in marine mammals,” she said. According to Doyen of Indian Marine Biology BF Chhapgar, whales have occasionally stranded along the Maharashtra coast and died, but a live sighting is very rare.
The whales could be migrating as similar migrations of whale-shark have been studied from Sri Lanka to coastal Gujarat. But blue whale sighting is very rare and it is a good beginning on the west coast,” he said.