Longman’s Beaked Whale Indopacetus pacificus and Mesoplodon spp. Entanglements Off Pakistan: Are Pelagic Gillnet Fisheries a Potential Threat?
Beaked whales (Ziphiidae) are rarely reported in the Arabian Sea. Four new cases (five individuals) were documented in deep waters offshore Pakistan through a pilot programme in 2015-2018 where trained fishers video-recorded net entanglements in the pelagic tuna drift gillnet fishery. Videos were analysed frame-by-frame. The large body size (est. 5-6m) of one specimen, its moderately bulbous melon, long tubular rostrum and a large falcate dolphin-like dorsal fin, indicated Longman’s beaked whale Indopacetus pacificus. It represents the first record for Pakistan (EEZ), and with a stranding at Gujarat, India, a second for the northern Arabian Sea. The other 4 ziphiids were significantly smaller (est. 3– 4.5m), with a decidedly non-bulbous melon, variable short to moderately short rostra, falcate to subtriangular dorsal fin and a nondescript greyish colouration, identified as Mesoplodon spp. Video quality was poor but none of the specimens showed tusks, arched mandible lines or noticeable linear tooth rakes, practically excluding adult males. The successful release of all the live net-entangled beaked whales is unprecedented. The simultaneous bycatch of two mesoplodonts in the same net set is equally exceptional. This citizen science strategy adds to our understanding of the distribution of I. pacificus and mesoplodonts, which may be more common in the Arabian Sea than the scarce literature suggests. If significant bycatch of beaked whales is confirmed, the massive tuna gillnet fishing effort in the Arabian Sea could have negative implications for their conservation status.