Conservation of the Arabian Sea Humpback Whale

A humpback whale named ‘Chomp’ breaches off the Dhofar coast of Southern Oman. A male, Chomp is a team favourite, having been encountered widely along the coast of Oman for almost 15 years (Darryl MacDonald/ESO)

The humpback whale population in the Arabian Sea (northern Indian Ocean) is the smallest and most endangered humpback whale population in the world. It is threatened by entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, and noise from ship traffic and coastal development. Unlike other humpback whale populations, which travel primarily along predictable migration routes between high-latitude feeding grounds and low-latitude breeding areas, the Arabian Sea population apparently does not migrate but remains within the Arabian Sea year-round. Its range includes the waters of Oman, Iran, Pakistan, India and possibly other countries in the region. In January 2015 the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Emirates Wildlife Society in association with WWF, and Wildlife Conservation Society, with major funding support from the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, convened a workshop of regional and international experts to develop a strategy for conservation of these whales.

A whale named ‘Spitfire’ performs for the camera off the island of Hallaniyah in southern Oman (Tobias Friedrich)

The workshop compiled evidence confirming the perception that the Arabian Sea humpback whale population is at a high risk of extinction (e.g. Pomilla et al 2014 and Van Bressem et al 2014). Participants stressed the need for a regionally collaborative research and conservation program, and outlined a process for developing such a program [for details see workshop report]. Steps were taken at and immediately following the workshop to implement the program. It is important to note that any actions taken to improve the protection of humpback whales in the region are likely to also benefit other large whale species, including blue whales and Bryde’s whales.

Three humpback whales were satellite-tagged in Oman in mid-March 2015, as part of a collaborative research project in Oman under the Environment Society of Oman, and their movements can be monitored at [http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/?project_id=1084].

Pomilla, C., Amaral, A.R., Collins, T., Minton, G., Findlay, K., Leslie, M.S., Ponnampalam, L., Baldwin, R., Rosenbaum, H., 2014. The World’s Most Isolated and Distinct Whale Population? Humpback Whales of the Arabian Sea. PLoS ONE 9, e114162.

Van Bressem, M.-F., Minton, G., Collins, T., Willson, A., Baldwin, R., Van Waerebeek, K., 2014. Tattoo-like skin disease in the endangered subpopulation of the Humpback Whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, in Oman (Cetacea: Balaenopteridae). Zoology in the Middle East 61, 1-8.

 


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