A couple of rare porpoises netted by shore fishermen died on the Valiathura beach last week, despite frantic rescue efforts by environmental activists.
The finless porpoises, an adult and a calf, landed up on the beach after they were accidentally caught in a shore seine net pulled in by fishermen.
Marine researchers and old timers said this was the first reported catch of finless porpoise in the area. Bluish grey in colour, the adult measured 1.5 m in length while the calf was 0.5 m long.
Alerted to the presence of a strange species, volunteers of Friends of Marine Life (FML), a local NGO, rushed to the spot and began frantic efforts to save the mammals.
“When we reached the scene, the calf had signs of life. We pushed it back into the sea but it kept rolling and was swept back ashore where it breathed its last,” says Robert Panipilla, coordinator, FML.
“Both the adult and calf could perhaps have been saved if we were alerted earlier.”
Unlike dolphins which belong to the same family of marine mammals, porpoises are rarely seen in the coastal waters. They have shorter beaks and flat teeth, distinct from the conical teeth of dolphins. “The absence of a dorsal fin marks out the finless porpoise. Fast and agile in the water, they use their flippers for stabilisation,” says A. Biju Kumar, Professor and Head, Department of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries, University of Kerala.
Travelling in pods, porpoises ( Neophocaena phocaenoides ) largely feed on fish and squid. They are not hunted, as their meat is fatty and tasteless.
They take seven to 10 years to achieve maturity and produce few offspring. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the finless porpoise as a vulnerable species. It is listed as a Schedule 1 species in the Wildlife Conservation Act, India.
“It is important to create awareness among local communities about the need to protect porpoises and their role in marine biodiversity. Panchayat-level Biodiversity Management Committees should be equipped to take up this responsibility,” says Mr. Robert.