Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 November 2019

20-metre sperm whale found dead on Fujairah coast

A sperm whale measuring 20 metres was found dead off the coast of Fujairah and was too decomposed to identify the cause of death.

The carcass was towed ashore by the port authority on Thursday where samples will be collected.

FUJAIRAH // A sperm whale measuring 20 metres was found dead off the coast of Fujairah and was too decomposed to identify the cause of death.

The carcass was towed ashore by the port authority on Thursday where samples will be collected.

The mammal was estimated to have died between three and five days earlier and was washed ashore.

Sperm whale sightings in the area are rare although they are known to swim deep in the waters of the Indian Ocean, off the east coast of the UAE.

"Fujairah port authorities were the first to spot the whale, and our team managed to take it out of the water using special equipment in order not to damage the carcass," said Eng Mohammed Al Afkham, director general of Fujairah Municipality.

Samples are being collected and may be used for scientific research as part of the Fujairah Whale Research Project, launched earlier this year by Sheikh Mohammed Al Sharqi, the Crown Prince of Fujairah.

The whale is even larger than the 13-metre sperm whale that was ashore in 2012. It is not clear how that creature died, although marine experts at the time speculated it might have been upon contact with an oil spill.

The carcass was buried in a dry patch of land in Fujairah at the weekend to allow it to decompose. The authority intends to display the huge skeleton to the public though the decomposition process may take 18 months to two years.

"The whale has been buried and after decomposing the skeleton will be displayed in a public place for educational purposes, as it’s rare to find a huge whale like that in the area," said Mr Al Afkham.

"We are planning to set up a marine life museum in the future to display rare marine creatures."

The research is being led by a team of international whale scientists from Five Oceans Environmental Services working in cooperation with the Port of Fujairah.

Robert Baldwin, managing director of Five Oceans, said almost nothing is known about the sperm whale population in the area.

"Samples for analysis, particularly to examine the DNA of the whale for comparison with other populations, was gathered by scientists, which may provide insight about the stock identity of sperm whales in Fujairah waters, about which nothing is currently known.

"Live sightings are just as rare [as deaths].

"There is no doubt, however, that sperm whales occupy the deep waters off Fujairah and the new research project aims to find out more about them, as well as to devise ways to help protect them from the risks posed by shipping traffic and fishing nets.

According to Five Oceans, male sperm whales typically reach a length of 16 metres or more and are considerably larger than females, which average under 10 metres in length.

Sperm whales spend long periods of time underwater, regularly diving to depths of hundreds of metres and remaining submerged for up to an hour, sometimes more.

"It is at these depths that the whales forage, looking for prey such as giant squid and large deep sea fish that studies elsewhere in the world have shown to be among their favourite food," Mr Baldwin added.

That new records can be detected so soon into the project highlights the need for further research in offshore waters in the region.

"The dead sperm whale, although a saddening event, provides good evidence that it is only a matter of time before live whales can also be found and studied, and provides further motivation for doing so," he said.

Scientists said that live sperm whales have not yet been detected by researchers during the first few months of the new project.

However, numerous dolphin species have been recorded, including common bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, spinner dolphins, and two new records for UAE waters - pantropical spotted dolphins and striped dolphins.

rhaza@thenational.ae

Updated: June 18, 2017 05:26 PM

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