ESO aims to build on existing research and knowledge of Oman’s cetaceans and provide information that can lead to effective conservation management. The work is conducted in coordination with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth (MAF). Special attention has also been given to working with the Ministry of Tourism in relation to whale and dolphin watching guidelines. We are also very excited to be working with Shell Development Oman LLC on whale acoustic data processing (further information below).
Our research and conservation efforts over the last few years have focused on the Arabian Sea Humpback Whales. Humpbacks are world famous for undertaking long seasonal migrations between polar feeding areas and tropical breeding areas but our research has shown Oman’s humpback whales to be the only known population in the world not to migrate, but rather to breed and feed in the same geographic area. This makes them truly Arabian whales! Not only are these whales distinct in this regard, but our recent research also indicates they are one of the smallest and potentially most vulnerable whale populations in the world, numbering fewer than 100 individuals in Oman.
The overall project aims to cooperate and assist with local and international bodies to improve conservation of cetaceans based on information acquired through scientific research; better define distribution, abundance and population identities in Oman, define critical habitats of cetaceans in Oman; identify, assess and help mitigate threats through conservation management recommendations and action; and raise awareness of marine and coastal environmental issues related to cetaceans and to enhance environmental education in Oman.
Following endorsement from the International Whaling Commission, ESO has again been able to successfully tag six humpback whales in February and November of this year, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Instituto Aqualie (IA) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Local partners include Five Oceans Environmental Services LLC, MECA, MAF, Diwan Office for Conservation of Environment (OCE), and SQU. The satellite tags provided detailed information that contributes to our understanding on the movements, seasonality and behaviour of this unique species. The tagged whales showed localized activity mainly moving between hotspots in the Hallaniyat Bay and the Gulf of Masirah, these areas are also facing rapid industrialization showing importance of strategic management of these important habitats. We thank the Port of Duqm for providing additional funding required to complete tagging in 2015.
Passive Acoustic Monitoring:
From 2011-2013 Marine Acoustic Recording Units were deployed in a triangulation configuration in the Gulf of Masirah and Hallaniyat Bay (previously determined hotspot areas). The monitoring allows for whale detection, noise analysis and song analysis and is significant in providing information on critical habitats, understanding the impact of noise-related human activities and understanding whale behaviour. Data from this work is finally being processed with the support of Shell Development Oman LLC and in collaboration with the New England Aquarium. This is of particular conservation value because boat surveys in this region have been limited to relatively small temporal windows by seasonal weather conditions, and as a consequence there is no information on the distribution of this endangered population during most of the calendar year. Accordingly, the acoustic data collection from 2011-2013 was specifically designed to investigate temporal and spatial distribution during the monsoons and times of year when no survey effort have been conducted. This existing data will arguably provide the most revealing and detailed insights on year-round presence for this population to date.
Please download PDF for whale and dolphin watching guidelines