ESO completes tagging of Arabian Sea Humpback Whales

Muscat - 

The Environment Society of Oman (ESO) has completed the final round of satellite tagging of Arabian Sea Humpback Whales in Oman. A total of 14 whales have been tagged since the project was initiated in 2014.

A press release stated that local and international scientists fitted five satellite transmitters on Arabian Sea Humpback Whales in the Gulf of Masirah over the last two weeks in order to track their movements. The use of advanced technologies such as satellite transmitters have enabled researchers to gain valuable information that would otherwise have taken months of field work to obtain.

The tags emit signal whenever the whales surface and are expected to transmit for anything between one and four months. Maps will then be generated to highlight whale movements habits, including hotspot areas based on where the whales spent most of their time and the pattern of their diving. The Arabian Sea Humpback Whale is recognised as a unique sub-population of humpback whales and is listed as ‘endangered’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

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

Suaad al Harthi, programmes director, ESO said, “Over the last ten years, ESO and its local and international partners have contributed vastly to the 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. “Continued research helps to provide us with more detailed information on the whereabouts of the whales and the seasonality of their movement.”

Renaissance Services have 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 Humpback Whales. We now understand habitats that are considered sensitive and the threats they face. It is now critical for us to use this information and translate it into concrete action for conservation of the population.”

ESO’s project has been supported by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and other agencies.

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