Chennai, Jan 29: Activists feel the Fisheries Department was indirectly responsible for the death of a whale shark off the Injambakkam coast on Monday. Officials were informed soon after the 21-ft-long creature got caught in a fishing net on the evening of Jan 27 but they did not ensure its immediate release.
Though the department directed that the whale shark must be freed, the fishermen concerned hesitated to comply. The latter thought they could get a large sum of money by selling the teeth of the big fish that weighed over 1500 kgs.
Hence, the fishermen dragged the whale shark ashore. It sustained severe injuries in the process. By the time Fisheries officials came to the spot yesterday morning, it was barely alive. In fact, the carcass surfaced within hours of the whale shark being belatedly pushed back into the sea.
There is no denying that the poor fishermen's greed led to the whale shark's death. However, the officials are equally to blame as the delay in enforcing their order proved to be crucial in the end.
According to activists, the Fisheries Department cited the darkness as the main reason why the whale shark was not liberated from the net on Sunday evening. Surely the officials could have arranged artificial lighting and seen to it that the marine creature which they are supposed to protect is safely released.
The whale shark is an endangered species. If anyone kills it, he or she is prosecuted under the Wildlife Protection Act. In this case, the fishermen probably did not intend to cause any harm. Nevertheless, both they and the officials could have taken more care.
The Gujarat government has been giving Rs 25,000 as reward to those who free whale sharks on finding the creature entangled in their nets. Perhaps Tamil Nadu and the other states need to do the same to prevent such avoidable tragedies.