Muscat – Ship strikes, by-catch and entanglement in fishing nets are some of the many factors threatening Arabian Sea humpback whales in Omani waters.
The Arabian Sea humpback whale was classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species in 2008. It is estimated to be one of the smallest and potentially most vulnerable whale populations in the world, numbering fewer than 100 individuals (best estimate 82).
The Arabian Sea humpback whale is one of 20 species of marine mammals found in Oman’s waters and is one of four species of great whales found in the sultanate – besides the Northern Indian Ocean blue whale, Bryde’s whale and sperm whale.
A workshop to discuss protection of the humpback whale was held in a collaboration between the Environment Authority (EA) and the Environment Society of Oman (ESO), on Monday.
The event brought together local and international experts and policy makers to encourage collective responsibility and further measures that could lead to a safer habitat for the regionally endangered species.
The two-day workshop involved presentations by representatives from international experts, including the International Whaling Commission, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Cetacean Specialist Group, as well as local entities who recognise the importance of protecting Arabian Sea humpback whales, including EA and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources.
The workshop also included discussions on how to design and implement Conservation Management Plans (CMP), which aim to minimise the threat to these whales.
H H Sayyida Tania al Said, President of ESO, said, “We have been around for 18 years but work on whales started even before that. We are now in a stage where we know the science and the status and thus we can now devise methods to tackle these problems. Some of the major threats are noise pollution due to development across the coastline, shipping accidents and ghost fishing. Sustainable conservation measures incorporating a crosscutting approach are required to mitigate the threats to the survival of this unique species.”
She informed that the workshop discussed how various government and industry stakeholders can work together to develop local CMP considering lessons learnt from a global perspective, as well as ways in which Oman can collaborate with other countries within the Arabian Sea humpback range to promote regional conservation measures.
Research supported by ESO has proven the Arabian Sea humpback whale is the only known humpback whale population in the world not to migrate between high latitude feeding grounds and low latitude breeding grounds, staying instead to breed and feed in the waters surrounding Oman (year-round residents of Oman).
Ahmed Said al Shukaili, Director of Marine Conservation Department at EA, said, “This small population could be pushed to the brink of extinction if threats are not addressed, which could result in an ecological imbalance in our marine environment. The major threats to this unique species include collision with ships, noise pollution, whale and dolphin watching tourism and entanglement in fishing nets. There is an urgent need to collectively mitigate these risks.”