x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Fisherman rescues whale near Fujairah shore

A 25-metre whale, stranded close to the coast of Fujairah, was herded unharmed to deeper water by a Dibba sailor.

A Dibba fishermen guided a lost whale out to sea after finding it swimming 50 metres from shore in Fujairah’s Al Faqit area.

He called the Ministry of Environment and Water after seeing the mammal at 4pm on Monday.

The fisherman was told to turn on his engine in the hope the sound of the boat would encourage the whale to swim out to deeper waters, a ministry official said.

The ploy worked. He drove slowly behind the whale out to a reef, then it returned to deeper waters.

The coast guard knew about the mammal but was not involved in the rescue.

The whale was about 25 metres long and weighed five tonnes, according to Wam, the state news agency.

Sulaiman Khadaim, president of the Dibba fisherman association, said the incident was unusual but managed well by the authorities.

The species of whale has yet to be confirmed but ministry officials believe it was a humpback. It was unscratched and unharmed.

A small population of humpbacks can be found off the coast of Oman but they number fewer than 100.

It is also possible it was a sperm whale. Both species are rarely sighted on the east coast, preferring the depths of the open sea.

The whale could have been near the shore because it was disoriented or injured.

“Nobody really knows where they strand,” said David Robinson, head biologist for Sharkwatch Arabia, who studies whale shark populations in the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

“You can get mass strandings around the world. It’s unusual to see a single whale stranding. Maybe in the next few days it is time to wait and see if it comes back.”

Whales also come to shore to avoid predators such as orcas, which prowl the coast in the cooler months. Right now the water is still warm.

“If it was a humpback it would certainly be an interesting sighting,” Mr Robinson said. “The good thing is it hasn’t come back and stranded again.

“They pretty much know what they’re doing so I would say notify the authorities just like this guy did. It seems they did a pretty good job of getting it out to sea.

“If a whale is going to strand there’s not much you can do.”

Andrew Moore, the owner of Freestyle Divers in Dibba, said whale sightings were “quite rare”.

So rare, in fact, that he has only seen two whales during his 20 years diving in the region – once about a kilometre offshore near Dibba Rock three years ago, and once in Musandam two years earlier.

“You see a lot of dolphins but not whales,” Mr Moore said.

A 13-metre sperm whale washed up near Fujairah port in May after 20 days at sea.

The municipality buried the mammal to decompose its body so that its skeleton could be put on display in a year’s time.

azacharias@thenational.ae