Dolphin sightings open door for research
DUBAI // The many recent sightings of dolphins off the Dubai coast has opened the door for further research into the mammals.
They have been reported as close as 8 kilometres from shore, including areas near the Palm Jumeirah and the Burj Al Arab.
Little or no research has been done on the animals in the Arabian Gulf, and details of population and species remain largely unknown.
"We do not have any consistent scientific data regarding the status of the dolphin population that may inhabit Dubai waters, nor about which species actually occur, their numbers, or whether they are resident, transitory or declining populations," said Dr Ada Natoli, an assistant professor in the biology department of UAE University.
She spoke to 61 people, including members of yacht and surfing clubs, water taxi pilots and officers from Dubai Municipality, to find out how many had seen dolphins in the past four months.
Dr Natoli said 84 per cent of them had seen a dolphin in Dubai waters, while 74 per cent had seen one in the past four months.
There are three commonly recorded species of dolphin off the coast of Dubai: the Indo-Pacific humpback, the Indo-Pacific bottlenose and the finless porpoise. The common bottlenose has also been seen, but less frequently.
Dolphins are more commonly seen on the east coast of the country and within the fjords of Musandam. But that is mainly because of a difference in species, said Keith Wilson, the marine programme director of Emirates Marine Environment Group.
In Musandam in particular, the acrobatic spinner dolphins were more common, lively and less shy of humans.
"A lot of the dolphins this side don't tend to dhow-ride," Mr Wilson said, referring to a tendency among some dolphins to follow alongside boats. "The spinners love to do that sort of thing. They lend themselves more to eco-tourism."
He said people who dived off the wrecks of Dubai were often guaranteed to see a dolphin on two out of three excursions.
"You've got to be looking hard, they're easy to miss," Mr Wilson said. "If you're not observant you will just swim right past them."
Unfortunately, beachings of dolphins are also common. There were three beachings in April alone. A common bottlenose, a spinner and an Indo-Pacific bottlenose washed up in separate incidents.
Two years ago, a pygmy sperm whale washed up in Dubai, the first reported sighting of the species in the Gulf.
"This proves that there are cetaceans living in the Gulf," said Mr Wilson, referring to the family that includes dolphins and whales.
"No one has done any formal surveys of them so far. There aren't even any photographic surveys. A full coastal survey of cetaceans will be of great interest."
Updated: June 16, 2012 04:00 AM