An adult whale shark was caught in a net when it came to shallow waters to breed, and was then dragged to death by a group of fishermen in Injambakkam on Monday.

According to marine welfare activists, a group of fishermen came ashore on Sunday around 7 p.m., with the whale shark caught in a banned purse-seine net. The whale shark, measuring 21 ft and weighing more than 1.5 tonnes, was alive then, near the shore.

On Monday morning, the fishermen, instead of pushing it back into the waters, dragged it ashore.

Activists complained that though information was passed on to the Fisheries and Wildlife authorities, they came to the spot on Sunday evening and said that as it had turned dark it would be difficult to push the whale shark back into the sea.

In the meanwhile, a rumour spread among the fishermen that the whale shark’s teeth could fetch them a fortune. They used a huge pole to drag the whale shark on to the sands, inflicting severe injuries.

When the officials returned on Monday morning, the whale shark was struggling to survive. They ordered the fishermen to push it back to sea. A couple of hours later, its carcass washed ashore.

Activists blamed the Fisheries and Wildlife authorities for their callous attitude which, they claimed, led to the death of the creature.

K. Venkataraman, director, Zoological Survey of India, said that the marine animal was an endangered species and categorised under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. He said killing or inflicting injury on a whale shark would attract severe punishment similar to that of slaying a tiger.

Dr. Venkataraman said that during this period of the year, whale sharks come close to the shore to breed. Whenever they were caught in a net and killed, the fishermen extracted oil and used it for painting their boats.

“They are harmless marine creatures. To date, no status survey had been done on them. In Gujarat, the government rewards fishermen who release whale sharks accidentally caught in the net by providing them Rs. 25,000,” he added.

Dr. Venkataraman. Tamil Nadu had a coastline of more than 1,000 km and a similar reward system should be introduced.

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