In a heartbreaking episode, a female blue whale, stranded for almost a day at the Alibaug beach in Maharashtra, died before sunrise on Thursday morning despite valiant efforts by locals to push her back to sea.
Fishermen and forest officials tried for 10 hours to push the blue whale, which weighed 20 tonnes and measured 40 feet, back to sea, The Indian Express reported.
The newspaper also reported that she was the first case of "live stranding" in Maharashtra, and this tragic episode has exposed the inability of Forest Department officials to help stranded marine animals. The Forest Department’s Mangrove Cell will reportedly consult international experts on how to deal with such situations.
“As the beach was shallow, a large ship couldn’t come close to the animal. Because of the rough weather, no small boat ventured into the sea to assist with the operation," said N. Vasudevan, chief conservator of the forests. "Usually, if such a large animal is beached for more than 12 hours, it does not survive."
"If we continue to push it using JCB machines, there is a chances of injuries," said Vasudevan. “Such stranding of whales happens across the world when the animal loses orientation due to a disease or an injury.”
The blue whale is the largest mammal ever known to have existed, according to WWF, an international NGO dedicated to conservation and the environment.
The INGO also says that the largest recorded length for a blue whale is 33.5 m (110 feet), but sizes tend to run more in the range of 80-100 feet. Females are up to 10 m longer than males. At 100 feet, a blue whale would weigh close to 200 tons, or 400,000 pounds.
In May, a blue whale was sighted off the Maharashtra coast after a century.
Vasudevan also told The Hindu that usually in cases of stranding, whales are pushed back to the sea once the high tide sets in. "Here, it was not lucky because of the low tide,” he said.
Images posted on Twitter by Anjali Lukose, who reported the story for The Indian Express, showed a crane standing on the beach, and fishermen trying to move the whale by tying a long yellow rope around it.
One disturbing image shows people standing on top of the whale.