An Arabian Sea humpback whale that was tagged in Masirah Island baffled marine biologists by turning up off the coast of India.
The tagged whale, named ‘Luban’, is a female and made the 1,500km journey during the mating season.
The Environment Society of Oman (ESO) said in a statement that Luban has travelled over 1,500 kms in nine days.
Andrew Willson from Five Oceans Environmental Services (5OES) in Muscat said: “The implications of this first trans-oceanic crossing reported by the tag represents a significant breakthrough for regional scientists who, until this last week, have been [trying] to understand if the humpback whales observed in the Arabian Sea are connected — or reside in their own discrete areas.” He added that the population observed from studies off the coast of Oman since 2000 is thought to number less than 100 and, hence, endangered.
Suaad Al Harthi, Programme Director at the Environment Society of Oman, said: “The challenge is now on to connect multiple lines of evidence using the satellite tracking, photo identification and humpback song analysis from acoustic recording units from across the region to produce population estimates, understand connectivity in greater detail and identify important habitats. Threats [to] these whales are increasing, especially with proliferation of coastal fishing and a threefold increase in shipping traffic in the Arabian Sea over the last 10 years — all of which [entail] risks ... of entanglement and ship strikes. Close coordination with government and private sector stakeholders is imperative for their continued survival.”
“This is very exciting news as it takes years of research for us to start unveiling the mysteries of this population. It’s very clear that conservation of this population will need to involve both local and regional efforts. We look forward to further implications that will be revealed through this research.” said Suaad Al Harthi.
Luban is one of 14 whales that have been tagged by the Environment Society of Oman.
She is considered the first female to be tagged. ESO started deploying satellite tags on the endangered species since 2014.
Arabian humpbacks are mysterious, having only been discovered as a genetically distinct humpback population in 2007.
They are also the only humpback whales that don’t migrate.
There are only around 100 Arabian Sea humpback whales, which are classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
Humpback whales inhabiting the Arabian Sea are the most genetically distinct humpback whales in the world and may be the most isolated whale population on earth, according ESO.
ESO, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) research in 2014 revealed that they have remained separate from other humpback whale populations for perhaps 70,000 years, extremely unusual in a species famed for long distance migrations.
Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries figures shows that Oman is home to almost 20 species of whales and dolphins, accounting for over a quarter of the world’s species.