Bulletin 23 - July 1984: International Dolphin Watch -- UAE

International Dolphin Watch -- UAE

by R.W. Brown and D.J. Rowlands

The recent visit to Abu Dhabi by Dr. Horace Dobbs, a world authority on dolphins and founder member of the International DoIphin Watch (I.D.W.), has generated a lot of interest among local and expatriate conservationists and has resulted in the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Humpback Dolphin project. During his visit, Dr. Dobbs delivered a number of lectures and film shows on the study and conservation of dolphins around the world.

The first event, held at the Intercontinental Hotel, was attended by more than 400 people. Subsequent lectures and film shows were well attended, including a highly successful workshop evening held on April 8th. This work night was held under the joint auspices of the ENHG and Abu Dhabi Diving Club, and took the form of a brief report given on dolphin sightings by the Mammal Recorder, a talk and a film show by Dr. Dobbs, and a general open discussion on the status of dolphins in UAE and adjoining waters.

The talk covered the result of field trips off Abu Dhabi, identification and recording techniques, the aims of the I.D.W. and the possibility of establishing a branch in Abu Dhabi. He also spoke of the possibility of conducting a study of Humpback Dolphins in Abu Dhabi, particularly groups, since his previous dolphin research had been mostly with individuals. The film show proved both interesting and spectacular. "Opo the Gay Dolphin of Opononi" followed the fortunes of a wild dolphin that regularly visited a particular coastline and was friendly with everyone -- even giving rides. "The Magic of Dolphins" was a more ambitious film, showing dolphin behaviour underwater thanks to some stunning photography.

On April 11th A follow up session was held in the ENHG workroom to discuss protocol and procedures for establishing a branch of the I.D.W. in Abu Dhabi. The working procedures agreed upon were:

1. Production of a data sheet on Humpback Dolphins.

2. Production of sighting forms plus reference information.

3. Production of large scale sighting maps.

4. Setting up a system for correlating sightings.

5. Appointment of a Controller and a committee responsible for operations and co-ordinating the Humpback Dolphin project.

A steering committee was formed and several meetings held to pursue the above and establish a constitution for the Branch. This steering committee consisted of J.N.B. Brown (Chairman), I Hamer (Treasurer), and K. Clarke (Liaison Officer), and was formally elected onto the full I.D.W. Branch Committee at a meeting held on May 20th.

Dr. Dobbs was active on several field trips during his visit and others have been made since, covering virtually the whole length of the Abu Dhabi coast. The success of the project will also depend on the cooperation of all individuals and groups out in boats during afternoons and at weekends. Information on sightings should be communicated to the ENHG Mammal Recorder, David Rowlands.

Indopacific Humpback Dolphin (Sousa chinesis)

For the Humpback Dolphin Project sighting forms have been prepared for our enthusiasts to complete with details of location, tide, numbers and behaviour patterns. These forms will be sent to the Natural History Mammal Recorder who will plot the positions on a master map. The map and sighting records will eventually be sent to the Cambridge headquarters of the I.D.W.

So little is known about how Dolphins exist, the distances over which they operate or whether they regularly visit the same areas, that we hope that when our sighting reports are analysed some new light might emerge on their life style. We intend to publish our findings at the end of the year's survey, and this should be a reference for any further scientific research.

The Humpback Dolphin was chosen as a subject for study because so many were observed around Abu Dhabi during Dr. Dobbs' visit in April. In a six day period five different groups were sighted, all in shallow water with a maximum estimated depth of five metres. One group of about ten animals was spotted just before midday under perfect conditions in a channel between Futaysi and Hudayriat, The sea was flat calm and it was possible to stay with the dolphins without difficulty, watching different modes of behaviour. One dolphin was curious and inspected the boat. The group included a metre-long baby with a white flash on one side.

The project will provide valuable insight into the little-known behaviour of dolphins as a social group. It will also provide essential background information against which changes in population and behaviour can be monitored in a sea area which is being subjected to major changes as a result of the dredging activities and waterfront development linked with the rapid expansion of Abu Dhabi.

The data from Humpback Dolphin Project will be fed to Cambridge University and will be incorporated in to the world-wide Dolphin Survey Project. However, it will also be a unique study in its own right and as such should be published in a reputable scientific journal. To achieve this it is proposed that when the project is well underway Mr. Denis McBrearty, who runs the Dolphin Survey Project at Cambridge University, should visit Abu Dhabi to discuss with the Project Controller and the major observers how best the project can be brought to a successful conclusion, and published.


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