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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

Rare sighting of whales off the UAE coast

The Ministry of Environment and Water urges fishermen to stay away from a pod of 35 to 40-foot-long whales in a rare sighting for this time of year.

ABU DHABI // A pod of 35 to 40-foot-long whales have been spotted in UAE waters off the coast of the Northern Emirates in recent weeks.

The fishermen who reported the whales describe the sighting as "rare" for the season, given that whales prefer to migrate away from the coasts towards cooler waters.

It was not clear what species of whales were spotted, but past sighting in UAE waters have included Blue, Humpback, Orca, Bryde's, Minke, Fin, Sperm and false killer whales.

The Ministry of Environment and Water has urged fishermen to stay away from the whales, to refrain from capturing them and to release them if they get tangled up in the fishing nets, according to Al Ittihad, the Arabic-language sister paper of The National.

UAE-based marine biologist Rima Jabado agreed it was crucial to get the message out to fishermen, because the whales' safety depended on it.

"The main idea is to keep the fishermen away and keep the whales far away from fishing nets," she said.

"Boats should not get close to the whales that are probably migrating as this would be an interruption and a disturbance. The main concern is not to change their natural behaviour."

Ms Jabado has been diving in the region for several years but has never personally seen a whale here. "There have been sightings of dolphins and whales but these often go unreported," Ms Jabado said.

She said whales and dolphins usually approach the shore if they are stranded or on account of an injury. "There have been reports of stranding and the assumption is that this happens when the animals are injured or dying."

Over the years, several beached whales have been discovered on the shores of Umm Al Quwain, Sharjah and Fujairah, sometimes in an advanced stage of decomposition.

In November last year a fishermen from Dibba guided a whale out to sea after finding it swimming 50 metres from Fujairah's Al Faqit area.

On instructions from the Ministry of Environment and Water who he called for help, the fisherman switched on the boat's engine and slowly tailed the whale, encouraging it to swim out to a reef and then into the sea.

rtalwar@thenational.ae