x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 December 2017

Watch: Group of rarely-seen humpback dolphins spotted off Abu Dhabi coast

A video of the dolphins was shared with UAE Dolphin project to support the conservation of marine species

A group of humpback dolphins and a small calf have been spotted swimming in the Hudayriat channel just off Abu Dhabi.

While the species can be seen in the UAE waters, it is unusual for a whole pod to be caught on camera.

The spotting of the group is a positive sign for marine conservationists, indicating that the dolphins continue to thrive even in a congested shipping channel.

“Dolphins are good indicators of the condition of the overall marine environment they inhabit” said Rob Chinman, from the Jalboot Marine Network, which runs tours of the islands off the coast of the capital.

Mr Chinman was aboard one of the sightseeing cruise company's vessels when he filmed the dolphins almost two weeks ago.

“The dolphins were spotted in the channel running through the island, whilst one of our 40 passenger catamaran fast ferries was out on a private charter.

“I caught the footage on my smartphone, with a deckhand stepping out on the bow of the boat to get the best video possible”, he said.

The footage was shared with the UAE Dolphin Project, which researches the dolphin population along the UAE coastline.

The project encourages individuals who have seen dolphins in the UAE to register the sighting to aid in their research.

The project's experts said that the dolphins that do flock to the shores of the UAE are the Indo-Pacific bottlenose and humpback dolphins, as well as the finless porpoise, "the most difficult of the three to spot”.

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Dr Ada Natoli, founder of the initiative, said that it is not unusual for dolphins to be swimming around the Hudayriat Channel.

“It’s pretty normal for humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbers) to encounter the Jalboot Marine workers. They are coastal species and generally stay also in riverine and shallow water habitats," she said.

“So in a nutshell I would say that dolphins in UAE coastal waters are pretty frequent. Definitely more than what the public think.".

The UAE’s dolphin population faces threats from environmental changes, such as the significant amount of marine traffic in the area.

Dr Natoli said that “habitat loss and disturbance is more evident in the UAE. In addition to land reclamation and increasing boat traffic”.

Although “In UAE we don't really have enough scientific data to determine the actual impact of each of environmental threats on the local population” she explains.

“This doesn't mean that those factor do not influence the local dolphin population”.

Al Mahara Diving Centre’s captain, Sanjay Fernando, said he often comes across dolphins around Abu Dhabi’s coastal areas, in some cases he sees groups of 40-50 dolphins swimming close to the beach off Emirates Palace.

“In winter the I usually see small groups of dolphins around Eastern Mangroves, Bateen channel also outside the Emirates Palace there are groups of 40-50 altogether- this is the place that you would often see them," he said.

“I would presume it’s their place of habitat here."

In February Environment Agency Abu Dhabi announced it will significantly expand the emirate's legally-protected natural reserves, meaning that 15 per cent of the emirate’s land and 13 per cent of its water will be covered by 2020. It will also triple its rehabilitation and breeding programmes for endangered animals such as the Arabian oryx.

"Our primary focus must be to ensure that development does not come at an unacceptable cost to the environment, to ensure that it goes hand in hand with conservation and sustainability,” said Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, chair of the environment agency, said at the time.