Muscat: The Environment Society of Oman has shared new evidence that supports the movement of the Arabian Sea Humpback Whale between Oman and India.
On December 21, 2019, divemasters from Dive Goa, Absolute SCUBA India, and West Coast Adventures captured video footage of a humpback whale off Netrani Island in India. The dive masters knew that this sighting was special, having been in contact with Dr Dipani Sutaria, who had travelled along India’s west coast from 2016 onwards raising awareness of the Endangered status of the Arabian Sea Humpback Whales.
Seemant Saxena from Absolute SCUBA India and Paritosh Agarwal from Dive Goa entered the water, free-diving through the murky depths to capture a few seconds of underwater footage of the extraordinary whale to share with Dipani.
Dipani shared this footage with her colleagues working with humpback whales on the other side of the Arabian Sea, in Oman. She hoped that they would be able to discern some features of the whale in the video that would allow them to identify and match it to one of the individual whales catalogued through 20 years of photo-identification work in Oman. Thanks to some distinctive markings, as well as a number of distressing injuries, most notably evidence that the left side of the whales tail fluke was missing, the team of international researches supporting the whale programme in Oman could conclusively confirm that the whale matched Individual OM11-010 in their catalogue, a whale observed and photographed on two consecutive days in October 2011 in the Gulf of Masirah.
“This is a hugely exciting finding,” says Andrew Willson from Five Oceans Environmental Services, lead scientist on whale surveys conducted on behalf of the Environment Society of Oman. “Firstly, it confirms that OM11-010 is still alive, despite the severe injuries we first documented over eight years ago. Secondly, it provides further evidence that Endangered Arabian Sea Humpback Whales are moving between Oman and India.” Trans-Arabian-Sea movement was first documented in 2017 when a female whale that was satellite tagged off the coast of Oman journeyed to the southern tip of India and back to Oman.
Suaad al Harthi, executive director at Environment Society of Oman said, “Thanks to the continued support of Renaissance Services, the Renaissance Whale and Dolphin Conservation Project, which began in 2011, continues to grow from strength to strength. Our research and conservation efforts indicate that the Arabian Sea humpback whales are one of the smallest and potentially the most vulnerable whale population in the world, numbering fewer than 100 individuals in Oman. Whilst this footage is exciting, it is also a sobering reminder of the threats that this and other species face around the world. Expert analysis of the images of OM11-010’s injuries indicate that they were caused by entanglement in fishing gear. In 2019 alone, ESO coordinated the removal of over 390 tons of abandoned fishing gear from Masirah island and have embarked on behavioural change campaigns targeting fishermen to reduce the impact of net entanglements and move towards safe disposal of nets. Threats to whales in this region are significant, with measurable consequences for the health of the population. We continue to look for funding to support our efforts to conserve this Endangered species”.
Willson and colleagues from the Environment Society of Oman and other organisations around the world are adding new and exciting techniques to their 20-year-long study of humpback whales off the coast of Oman, including the use of drones to measure body condition and health.