Andrew Wilson, a researcher at ESO Whale and Dolphin Research Group with his company Five Oceans, gave a very informative presentation about Oman’s Humpback Whale population. This is probably the world’s only sedentary population of Humpback Whales, as over the last 70,000 years it separated from the rest of the Indian Ocean population and settled in Oman’s waters. The seasonal sea temperature changes caused by the summer Monsoon and rich marine food supplies (Sardines & Euphasids) enables both breeding and feeding within the same body of water.
Andrew explained that much of the underlying data was from Soviet Whaling ships which hunted Whales in the Arabian Sea from 1946 to 1978. The ships included a scientist to record a whole data set of the animals, including stomach contents. Current research includes position logging by satellite-tagging and acoustic recording to identify the ‘singing’ which it is believed is associated with male breeding activity.
Estimates of the known individuals in Oman’s seas is roughly 82 animals with a possibly maximum of 250 adults and perhaps 150 sub adults. This means that the population is very vulnerable to the loss of even a single individual.
Though casualties have been recorded from fishing net entanglement, Andrew also gave the example of one of Oman’s major ports, Duqm, which is putting in place a Whale avoidance system. Duqm lies within a key area for Whales where there is frequent sightings of these marine mammals. The presence of a Whale in the shipping lanes should produce a report, that creates a digital position marker which obliges ships to avoid the area for a number of hours.
Ongoing research has focused on the male Whales and Andrew hopes that it will be possible to include females within the next few years, to broaden the already detailed information about one of Oman’s most vulnerable animals.
Naturally more widespread protection is key to these Humpback Whales survival and key to achieving that is awareness and appreciation of the place these Mammals have in the world.