Rupen (on the Gujarat coast ):In a first of its kind for a wildlife campaign in India, a life-sized model of a whale shark was inflated in this small fishing village drawing huge crowds that watched a street play on the protection of the world’s largest fish with rapt attention. “Sometimes the whole village would come out to watch the model unfold and see the play. It was very heartening to see the fishing community understand the message and ask questions,” Wildlife Trust of India’s whale shark campaigns manager, Dhiresh Joshi, said.
The campaign to spread awareness about the world’s largest fish, which was till recently being brutally slaughtered along the Gujarat coast for export, is being spearheaded by the Wildlife Trust of India and its partner, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and is being supported by two major corporate houses with units in the state: the Gujarat Heavy Chemicals Limited and Tata Chemicals. The life sized model will move along the Gujarat coast with stops in all the major fishing villages so that the message is uniformly spread.
A 40 ft whale shark, which was first displayed in the town of Mithapur proved to be an instant crowd puller. Its sheer size generated enormous excitement and awe in a community which had never seen a model of this magnitude before. Children and parents alike were drawn to the inflatable, trying to touch and feel it. The inflatable was designed to be the backdrop for a series of street plays on the whale shark, which are a part of the campaign to give the people of Gujarat a feeling of pride for this fish.
At a village called Rupen, there was some reluctance from the head of the fisheries department who felt that the message carried by this play to protect the whale shark may not have been in the fishermens interest. “This will affect their livelyhood. Please take care that there is no untoward incident during your play”, he said. The show continued with police protection at Rupen in a picture-perfect setting on the beach with boats in the background.
The street play also led to interactive sessions with the audience. One of the questions thrown from the audience was that the ban on hunting the whale shark has affected the fishing community because this fish brings them a lot of money. Moreover this fish also breaks their nets and damages their boats. What he actually wanted to know was the reasons behind the ban on fishing for the whale shark. A street play like this provided answers to their queries and helped dispel some myths about this little-known creature. Reactions to this series of events along the coast will also help plan the next phase of the campaign.
A surprising reaction came from a fisherman at Rupen. He observed that the inflatable was not that of a whale but actually that of a fish. “The whale has a horizontal tail fin and spurts out water and air as it comes up”, he said. This showed awareness about whales which are also sighted off the Gujarat coast.
At Dwarka, the show captivated a young audience from a local madarasa. The children carried home the message that this fish is perfectly harmless. The head of the madarasa was very supportive of the campaign. Most of the people interviewed after the play agreed upon the fact that this fish is a guest to our coasts and should not be hunted, and they would consider joining in the campaign to save the fish.
At Dalda, the fishermen were cooperative and they whole-heartedly agreed that this fish is really harmless to humans. “The fish does not suspect any human till we reach out and ring the nose with the hook. Only after the fish is ringed that it realizes the pain and tries to flee”, a fisherman revealed. They all admitted that the fish is harmless and agreed to help in the campaign to protect and save it.
The team carrying the inflatable put up an extra show of the play notwithstanding the daytime temperatures of 42 degrees Celsius. The ripple that the campaign had created promises to grow into a wave in the near future. Watch this space for updates.