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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Endangered Arabian humpback spotted off Dubai coast

The female humpback was spotted with her calf, according to marine biologist Robert Baldwin

A humpback whale breeches off Half Moon Bay in California. A female and her calf were spotted a kilometre off the coast of Dubai. AP
A humpback whale breeches off Half Moon Bay in California. A female and her calf were spotted a kilometre off the coast of Dubai. AP

A female humpback whale and a small calf have been sighted one kilometre off the coast of Dubai.

The sighting is the first confirmed live record of the highly-endangered species in the Arabian Gulf waters of the UAE, according to marine biologist Robert Baldwin, who studies the whales and dolphins of the UAE and Oman, WAM, the UAE state news agency reported.

The mother and calf were filmed by a local resident and the video was posted on Instagram.

Whales are rarely recorded inside the Arabian Gulf, mostly only appearing when they wash up dead on the shore. However most of these are believed to be Bryde’s whales, a related species. Several species of whales, including humpbacks, are also seen rarely off the UAE’s East Coast.

Mr Baldwin announced the sighting during a talk he and two colleagues gave at the Royal Geographical Society in London this week.

During the talk, he spoke of the whales, dolphins and turtles of Oman, focussing on the humpback whales of the Arabian Sea, now believed to be one of the most endangered and isolated whales on the planet.

Research, including satellite tracking, has shown that less than 100 of them survive, said Mr Baldwin, the author of ‘Whales and Dolphins of the UAE’.

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"Information we are gathering from these whales is providing us with invaluable knowledge about the isolation of species in a remote corner of our oceans and giving us scientific signposts towards their future survival in a rapidly developing region," he said.

The Arabian Sea humpback whale measures up to 16 metres long and can be distinguished from other whales by its lifestyle and song. Unlike other whales, it doesn’t migrate from warm tropical seas to polar feeding grounds, instead choosing to live year round in the warm yet rich waters off the Arabian peninsula. It is a more solitary whale, rarely moving in groups, and is, as yet, little studied.

Joining Mr Baldwin at the talk were two marine biologists from the region.

Suaad Al Harthi, an Emirati scientist now working as Programme Director of the Environment Society of Oman, discussed the global importance of conserving critically-endangered marine turtles, as well as highlighting the threat to the Arabian Sea humpback whale and its smaller relative, the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin.

Aida Al Jabri, Acting Head of the Marine Conservation Department of Oman’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, who also spoke, is currently drafting regulations to manage tourism activities around these species and to train young Omanis, including fishermen and local communities, about the importance of conserving these endangered species.

* WAM