Highly poisonous sea-snakes found off the UAE coast

By Angel Chan

FUJAIRAH 7 March 2019: Important new discoveries about whales, dolphins and sea-snakes off the coast of Fujairah have been made by a research programme.

The latest issue of Tribulus, published by the Emirates Natural History Group. carries two papers by researchers on these little studied aspects of the UAE’s marine life. The research programme is supported by Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, Crown Prince of Fujairah.

“I am delighted by these new discoveries,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad told the Emirates News Agency.

“The people of Fujairah have always had an intimate connection with the sea and it remains an important part of our cultural heritage as well as of our expanding economy. It is of crucial importance that we learn more about our marine life and about how we can work to preserve it.”

Sea Snakes

One paper, ‘The sea snakes of Fujairah’, by Balazs Buzas, of Fujairah’s Al Mayya Sanctuary, Balazs Farkas, Eszter Gulays and Csaba Geczy, report that during a total of 100 boat trips between January 2015 and July 2018, sightings were made of eight of the nine sea snake species known to occur in the waters in the UAE. For three species, probable evidence of breeding in UAE waters was also discovered.

Previous research on the UAE’s sea snakes, which are highly poisonous, has been focussed on the waters of the Arabian Gulf. Buzas and his colleagues note that “the waters of the Gulf of Oman – and especially off the east coast of the UAE – remain largely unexplored” in terms of research, with no previous detailed studies of sea snakes in waters off Fujairah having taken place.

Whales & Dolphins

The second paper, ‘Growing knowledge of cetacean fauna in the Emirate of Fujairah, UAE’, by Robert Baldwin, author of ‘Whales and Dolphins of the UAE’, Andrew Wilson, Elayne Looker and Balazs Buzas, reports on sightings of whales and dolphins both in shallow inshore waters and in waters further offshore that can be up over 500 metres deep.

The research was organised under the aegis of the Fujairah Whale Research Project, a partnership between the Port of Fujairah and Five Oceans Environmental Services, which was launched in February 2017 by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad.

The studies involved both marine surveys and a study of existing literature, and showed that at least 11 species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) are present in Fujairah waters. Of these, three, of spotted, striped and rough-toothed dolphins, recorded during the surveys, are species not previously known to be present in UAE waters.

Another species, the false killer whale, was only known from previous reports until specimens were noted in early February 2019.

Dubai Gazette