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Plastic off the coast of Gujarat claims the life of a finless porpoise
Sutrapada, March 7, 2014: Plastic waste claimed another life after a finless porpoise (Neophocaedon phocanoides) was found washed ashore with plastic bags in its stomach on the coast of Sutrapada on Tuesday morning. Fishermen out on their daily routine found the body around 8:15 am and immediately informed the State Forest Department who, accompanied by the team from Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), immediately rushed to the spot.

“The post-mortem was done by the veterinarians from the forest department who found four thick plastic bags inside the stomach of the porpoise, blocking off passage in the vital organ. They have attributed the same as the cause of death. The porpoise was about 14 feet in size, weighed about a ton and was estimated to be around 20 years old,” said Farukhkha Husenkha, Field Officer for WTI in Gujarat.

The body of the finless porpoise was found at 8:15 am by local fishermen. 
Photo: Farukhkha Husenkha / WTI

Jivabhai Nathubhai Bariya, a fisherman with the Sutrapada Koli Samaj Patel, said, "In the wee hours of the morning a few fishermen who were at the shore saw the dead fish and reported it as a Machhraja (whale) to the Forest Department. Kantilal Patel, of the Sutrapada Kharva Samaj Patel, helped in immediately providing support to the forest department and 40-50 fishermen from Saurashra also came forward to help the officials in the operation."

Prof. B C Choudhury, Senior Advisor of the Programme, lamented the death of the porpoise to plastic while expounding on the loss felt by the fisherman of the local community. "Fishermen like Jivabhai think of dolphins, whales and porpoises as part of their community and their death is akin to the passing away of a friend. In this day and age of technology, these fishermen still rely on their marine friends to help them locate shoals of fish, which makes them part breadwinners of the family. That's why you'll rarely find a fisherman in Gujarat who will not release a dolphin or porpoise if caught in their net."

Local fishermen gathered to mourn after hearing the news and to offer support to the Forest Department.
Photo: Farukhkha Husenkha / WTI

In August of last year, the team of WTI’s West Coast Marine Conservation Project, supported by TATA Chemicals, conducted a beach cleaning drive on the coast of Mithapur with local school kids. In a half kilometer walk alone the children accumulated a collective 190 kilograms of plastic waste!

“While this is the second instance of a porpoise washing ashore in the past four years and the first of that with plastic in its stomach, it’s just a matter of time before more marine life washes up after choking on this waste that humans so carelessly discard without thinking about the consequences and the damage it causes to the eco-system,” said Prof. Choudhury.

Vivek Menon, the Executive Director of WTI and author of the book Field Guide to Mammals, elaborated on the elusive species saying, “The finless porpoise is often confused with a dolphin by laymen but can be easily distinguished by the lack of a dorsal fin. These shy, elusive creatures are found in both fresh and marine waters and can live up to 25 years. Unfortunately there are no recent statistics regarding their population in the area. But given the global trend of declining populations, there is no doubt that even a single detected loss, especially due to plastic waste, is indicative of a larger degrading habitat.”

Plastic has been a major bane for marine life with a lot of waste accumulating every year on the beaches. Marine species like turtles often consume the same confusing plastic bags for jellyfish. “Finless porpoises are opportunistic eaters and plastic floating around in the waters then becomes just another food item for them,” added Vivek Menon.

While the IUCN Red List currently lists them as vulnerable experts have touted them as being on the brink of local extinction in certain areas like the Yangtze River in China.

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