Rare Arabian humpback whale spotted off Dubai

By Sheena Amos

DUBAI 22 October 2017: A highly-endangered female humpback whale and a small calf were recently been sighted one kilometre off the coast of Dubai.

The sighting is the first confirmed live record of the species for the Arabian Gulf waters of the UAE, according to marine biologist Robert Baldwin, who has studied the whales and dolphins of the UAE and Oman for many years.

The mother and calf were filmed by a local resident, with the film being posted on Instagram, said Wam.

Whales are rarely recorded inside the Arabian Gulf, mostly only occurring when they are washed up dead on the shore. Most of these, however, are believed to be Bryde’s whales, a related species. Several species of whales, including humpbacks, are also seen rarely off the UAE’s East Coast.

The announcement coincides with a talk by Baldwin and two colleagues given at the Royal Geographical Society in London this week. The talk, on the whales, dolphins and turtles of Oman, focused on the humpback whales of the Arabian Sea, now believed to be one of the most endangered and isolated whales on the planet.

Scientific research, including satellite tracking, has shown that less than 100 of them survive, says Baldwin, the author of ‘Whales and Dolphins of the UAE’.

“Information we are gathering from these whales is providing us with invaluable knowledge about the isolation of species in a remote corner of our oceans and giving us scientific signposts towards their future survival in a rapidly developing region,” said Baldwin.

The Arabian Sea humpback whale measures up to 16 metres long and is distinguished from other whales by, among other traits, its lifestyle and song. Unlike other whales, it doesn’t migrate from warm tropical seas to polar feeding grounds, instead choosing to live year round in the warm yet rich waters off the Arabian peninsula. It is a more solitary whale, rarely moving in groups, and is, as yet, little studied.

Joining Baldwin at the talk were two marine biologists from the region.

Suaad Al Harthi, an Emirati scientist now working as Programme Director of the Environment Society of Oman, discussed the global importance of halting the decline of the critically-endangered marine turtles, as well as highlighting the threat to the Arabian Sea humpback whale and its smaller relative, the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin.

Aida Al Jabri, Acting Head of the Marine Conservation Department of Oman’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, who also spoke, is currently drafting new regulations to manage tourism activities around these species and to train young Omanis, including fishermen and local communities, about the importance of conserving these endangered species.