A 47-feet-long blue whale was rescued and pushed into the sea thanks to the vigilance of local fishermen, who discovered the animal beached near village Madban, close to Jaitapur nuclear power plant in Ratnagiri district on Sunday morning.
Local fishermen alerted forest officers on Saturday evening after finding the whale. Two boats carrying 50 personnel were deployed on Sunday morning to carry out the mammoth rescue operation.
Estimated to be weighing 20 tonnes, the whale was reportedly beached for over two days. The mammal was eventually pulled into the sea with the help of ropes during high tide.
"The whale was stranded along the shoreline during low tide on Thursday or Friday. We can only assume this because the animal was out of the water when it was found and its ribs were visible," N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell told the Hindustan Times.
"Four forest officials led the rescue operation along with local NGOs and fishermen, and the whale was pulled into deep sea by Sunday afternoon," Vasudevan added, while suggesting that this was one of the biggest rescue operations in India.
"After the beaching and death of a whale at Juhu, Mumbai and the safe rescue earlier this year from Ratnagiri itself, the sheer size of the mammal makes this the biggest rescue of beached mammal in history."
Another forest officer, B R Patil speculated that the whale may have been suffering some type of injury or internal parasitic infection that may have interfered with its navigational abilities and forced it move closer to the shore. But he added that the whale sped back into the deep sea after the rescue mission was completed.
The largest known animal in the world, the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), falls under the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1986. Maharashtra has had a mixed record of rescuing the endangered animal.
Though in February this year, a 20 member team successfully rescued a 40-foot-long blue whale in operation that lasted nine-hours, the coast of Maharashtra has seen more tragic episodes.
The carcass of a 40-foot-long male Bryde's whale washed up at Juhu beach, near Juhu Tara Road, on January 29. The whale was beached for 17 hours and could not be rescued. The carcass of the whale was burnt and buried at Juhu beach after the rescue operation failed.
In August last year, a 42-foot-long live blue whale had washed ashore and beached at Alibaug. Several attempts made by the forest department and local fishermen from the area to push the whale back into the sea went in vain and the whale died after collapsing on its own body weight a few hours after beaching. The rescue operation went on for 18 hours.