Oman’s endangered marine life

The Arabian Sea humpback whale outlived the last great ice age, surviving through 70,000 years of change, but now it is at risk of extinction.

Detailed scientific research, including satellite tracking, has revealed  there are now less than a hundred of these extraordinary creatures living year round off the coast of Oman. They have become one of the most endangered and isolated whales on our planet.

The challenge is now on to recover their numbers and help them to survive.

“Scientific research in recent years has revealed their pre-historic ancestory,” explained internationally renowned marine research scientist Rob Baldwin, who will speak at an event at London’s Royal Geographical Society on Wednesday 18th October concentrating on Oman’s marine life and particularly these endangered whales. “Information we are gathering from these whales is providing us with invaluable knowledge about the isolation of species in a remote corner of our oceans and giving us scientific sign posts towards their future survival in a rapidly developing region.

“In a broader context this knowledge informs our understanding of evolution and the survival of life on our planet.”

Intense, annual upwellings, which turn tropical conditions into a neo-temperate environment drive and support food webs on which marine wildlife intricately depend.

The Arabian Sea humpback whale measures up to 16 meters long and is distinguished from other whales by, among other traits, its lifestyle and song. Unlike other whales, it doesn’t migrate from warm tropical seas to polar feeding grounds, instead choosing to live year round in the warm yet rich waters off the Arabian peninsula. It is a more solitary whale, rarely moving in groups and about which we still know very little. The little we have learned merely adds intrigue, from its archaic-sounding song to advanced feeding techniques involving bubble nets to trap prey – blowing a ring of bubbles in a circle around a shoal of fish and then lunging up through the centre to feed on its captured prey.

At the easternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman sits in on the edge of a most fascinating part of the ocean world where marine life faces climatic extremes experienced in few other parts of the ocean. Intense, annual upwellings, which turn tropical conditions into a neo-temperate environment drive and support food webs on which marine wildlife intricately depend. This unusual mix of conditions has led to entire populations of wildlife, some abundant, some extremely rare, which can be found nowhere else on earth.

Baldwin will be joined by two Omani marine ecologists who will provide more details, highlighting the threat to the Arabian Sea humpback whale and its smaller relative the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin the critically endangered loggerhead turtle and programmes being put in place to help them survive. 

Aida Al Jabri is acting head of the Marine Conservation Department at the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs. She is passionate about whales and dolphins and is drafting regulations to manage tourism activities around these species and to train young Omanis, including fishermen and local communities about the importance of conserving these endangered species, encouraging them to do what they can do to help tackle the threat to their survival.

Suaad Al Harthi is the Programme Director of the Environment Society of Oman, prompting environmental awareness in the region and will talk about the global importance of halting the decline of the critically endangered sea turtle population.

Photographs: Robert Baldwin

Tickets available from: from Eventbrite www.bit.ly/oman181017

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