Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Juvenile whale shark sighted off Ras Al Khaimah coast

The filter-feeder, which poses no threat to humans, was filmed near a fishing boat 10 kilometres away from Al Jazeera Port

A five-metre whale shark was sighted off the coast of Ras Al Khaimah.

Fishermen shared footage of the juvenile shark with The National on Wednesday though the slow-moving, docile individual was spotted last Thursday.

The filter-feeder, which poses no threat to humans, was seen near a fishing boat 10 kilometres away from Al Jazeera Port in Jazirat Al Hamra.

Humad Al Zaabi, deputy manager of the RAK fishermen association, was on a usual fishing trip when he saw the shark.

“It was around 10.13am when I first saw it,” said Mr Al Zaabi, who has been a fisherman for more than 30 years.

“I was with two workers on the boat heading back to the port when the shark suddenly appeared from nowhere.

“By looking at the shark colour and shape I immediately knew it wasn’t dangerous although the workers were a bit scared,” he said.

“We enjoyed its company for around five minutes and then it disappeared back into the water. It was the first time I see a whale shark in my life.”

Whale sharks have mouths up to 1.5m wide which they use to filter feed plankton and small fish. They inhabit tropical and warm-temperate seas.

Adults are typically about 9.8m in length and have a lifespan of about 70 years, but field data suggest they may live as long as 130 years.

The species is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to the impacts of fisheries, by-catch losses, and vessel strikes, combined with its long lifespan and late maturation.

Natalie Banks, a marine conservationist, said whale sharks have been sighted in RAK but are still not considered common to the UAE’s coastal waters.

“From the photo and the markings it is a healthy looking juvenile whale shark,” she said.

Ms Banks said this is the third consecutive year that whale sharks have been sighted in RAK during summer months.

“It is rare to see whale shark during the summer months. Usually the sightings take place in winter months in the UAE but over the past few years there have been sightings in Ras Al Khaimah during summer,” she said.

“Whale sharks are being spotted in RAK during June and July months and are also seen at the entrance of the Arabian Gulf.

“Their markings are unique in that not two whale sharks are exactly identical and they are extremely peaceful animals.”

Last October, Al Bahar beach in Abu Dhabi was closed to swimmers after a whale shark was spotted in the capital's waters.

While in August 2018, a scared whale shark was rescued after getting lost in Dubai Creek.

Updated: June 19, 2019 07:24 PM

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