14 Arabian Sea Humpback Whales tagged in Oman
December 10, 2017 | 10:00 PM
by Times News Service
The use of advanced technologies such as satellite transmitters has enabled researchers to gain valuable information that would otherwise have taken months of field work to obtain. Photo - Supplied

Muscat: The Environment Society of Oman (ESO), in partnership with Five Oceans Environmental Services, has completed the final round of satellite tagging of Arabian Sea Humpback Whales in Omani waters.

A total of 14 whales have been tagged since whale tagging was initiated in 2014.

Through sponsorship from Renaissance Services SAOG, local and international scientists deployed five satellite transmitters on Arabian Sea Humpback Whales within the Gulf of Masirah over the last two weeks in order to track their movements.

The use of advanced technologies such as satellite transmitters has enabled researchers to gain valuable information that would otherwise have taken months of field work to obtain. Once deployed, the tags emit a daily signal whenever the whales surface and are expected to transmit for anything between 1-4 months.

Maps will then be generated to depict movements and habits of whales, including highlighting of hotspot areas based on where the whales spent most of their time and the pattern of their diving.

The Arabian Sea Humpback Whale is recognized as a unique sub-population of humpback whales and is listed as ‘endangered’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

However, more recent research continues to suggest a need to re-assess their listing as ‘critically endangered’.The surviving population is estimated to be no more than 100 in Oman. However, this estimate has been based on photo ID mark-recapture analysis using information collected between 2000 and 2004.

The ESO has gathered enough data and is working on a population re-estimation which it hopes to reveal later next year.

This would contribute to our understanding of the population trend, whether it is increasing, decreasing, or stable, and would help to plan conservation efforts to recover and maintain this small, isolated sub-population.

Suaad Al Harthi, ESO Programme Director commented, “Over the last 10 years, ESO and its local and international partners have contributed vastly to our knowledge of whales and dolphins in Oman. Specifically, in the case of the Arabian Sea Humpback Whale we now understand that Oman hosts a unique sub-population, which is genetically distinct and has been isolated for approximately 70,000 years.

“We also know that this is the world’s only population of non-migratory humpback whales. This places a huge responsibility on Oman, along with other North Western Indian Ocean host countries, to work together and look for mechanisms to conserve the population for generations to come.”

Harthi said: “Continued research helps to provide us with more detailed information on the whereabouts of the whales and the seasonality of their movement.”

Coupling this with what we know about the threats that they face including ship-strikes, noise pollution and entanglement in nets, we can become more efficient at our management recommendations to government and industry by specifying restrictions based on periods when whales are known to occur in specific areas, thus enabling efficiency at meeting the needs of conservation as well as other activities such as fishing, shipping and tourism.”

Renaissance Services SAOG has been funding this research programme since 2011. Stephen Thomas, CEO of Renaissance Services, said, “The scientific research and monitoring programme has revealed valuable information about the Arabian Sea.”

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