Maharashtra government to conduct study on endangered humpback whales

At the maiden meeting of the State Board for Wildlife, chaired by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Friday, it was decided that forest management and aquatic wildlife management will have to be more robust and empathetic towards biodiversity and ensure development that is balanced and sustainable. The board has approved a proposal for the recovery programme for Arabian Sea Humpback Whales (ASHW).

It has taken a decision to launch an extensive research programme for Arabian Sea Humpback Whales along the state for a duration of 5 years (November 2020 to October 2025). This was necessitated as Humpback Whales found along the western coast of India are supposedly part of the distinct Arabian Sea population and ASHW are currently listed as endangered. The proposed research is expected to help in identifying ecologically important areas for effective conservation management efforts for marine megafauna.

Even though the total population estimate of ASHW across their range is unknown, it is likely that the overall Arabian Sea population currently contains less than 250 mature individuals. Geographic isolation, combined with negative interactions with human development, is thought to be a significant deterrent for the recovery of this population.

Minister of Environment Aaditya Thackeray in a tweet said it was emphasised that all proposed human development projects must compulsorily come with not just Environment Impact Assessment, but present day drone survey. This is to send out a firm message that wildlife and environment are as important as development and there would not be any compromise on this front.

The board member Kishor Rithe told Free Press Journal, “It is now critical to implement a systematic long term study for these animals considering the unique non migratory nature of this population and their endangered status and the shortage of baseline information on their occurrence across the eastern Arabian Sea. There is a critical need to initiate a systematic effort to study ASHW using a combination of acoustic and visual monitoring methods to bridge the information gap for this species in Indian waters.’’ He informed that the study aims to implement a community based monitoring network to report sightings and strandings of cetaceans along the Maharashtra coast. Coastal communities will be trained to collect vital morphological data from stranded carcasses along with samples for genetic analysis.

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