An over 20-ft long adult whale shark died a slow death through Sunday night and Monday morning after getting caught in the net of fishermen from the Injambakkam fishing village on Sunday night. The fishermen themselves disclosed that they had disobeyed instruction from the Fisheries Department to release the whale shark, under the impression that they could make at least Rs 2 lakh by selling the endangered fish.
The whale shark is the biggest fish in the world. It is accorded the highest protection by India’s Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972, on par with the National Animal and the National Bird — the Royal Bengal Tiger and the Peacock. Those found harming or causing the death of whale sharks are liable for fines up to Rs 25,000 and/or imprisonment of up to seven years. Whale sharks feed on small fish and plankton and are docile creatures not known to attack humans.
Fishing community members in Injambakkam admit that they had received a call from a local Fisheries Department official late in the evening on Sunday, asking them to release the whale shark, which was entangled in one of their nets. They had told the official that they would release it first thing in the morning. But they had instead pulled it ashore.
It was only two hours later, after officials from the Forest Department reached the spot, that they dragged the shark out to sea and released it. But, it was already weak and evidently going to die.
Eyewitnesses told Express that the animal had been unable to swim and had been caught in the intermediate zone 30 metres from shore. They said it had died and that they were waiting for it to wash ashore.