Oman research update; documenting cetacean diversity and blue whale feeding habitat in Dhofar, southern Oman
Andrew Willson, Gianna Minton, Tim Collins, Suaad al Harthi, Maia Sarrouf Willson, Salvatore Cerchio, Gill Braulik and Robert Baldwin
Cetacean research has been conducted in Dhofar, southern Oman, since 2000 During this time efforts have been primarily focused on documenting the distribution, abundance, and ecology of an Endangered population of Arabian Sea humpback whales (ASHWs). The research has revealed the Hallaniyats Bay (including our study site measuring approximately 10,000km2) to be a habitat of importance for reproductive and foraging related behaviours. Simultaneously the field surveys have revealed high cetacean diversity in the area, with over 18 species documented at the site, out of a total of 22 species known for the Arabian peninsula between 2003 and 2016. Short opportunistic surveys conducted March 2018 to April 2019 continue to provide evidence of the ecological importance of the area for a diverse array of species, including several species of large baleen whales (including humpback whales, Brydeâ€™s whales, and blue whales) as well as a range of large, medium and small odontocetes. Most recently, in April 2019, blue whales were observed over a three-day period, engaged in behaviour associated with feeding. As well as documenting this important ecological event the team was able to collect photographic, tissue and faecal samples that are expected to help resolve issues related to taxonomy and population structure of blue whales in the northern Indian Ocean. The high levels of cetacean diversity and the regular occurrence of species of scientific and conservation interest documented within a recent Important Marine Mammal Area workshop suggest that the area warrants conservation management attention to maintain its current â€˜near-wildernessâ€™ state.