Bulletin 23 - July 1984: Whales and Dolphins
Whales and Dolphinsby J.N.B. Brown
The recent visit of Dr. Horace Dobbs of the International Dolphin Watch has prompted me to look through my files and reproduce some notes. I am grateful to Dr. Dobbs for allowing me to use line drawings from the Dolphin Spotters Handbook. Very few of us see let alone identify the whales, dolphins and porpoises that inhabit or occasionally visit the Arabian Gulf.
Little is known or recorded about these large sea dwelling mammals in this area. Under the collective name of whales, (dolphins and porpoises are small ones) they belong to the Order Cetacea, which is divided into two sub-orders -- Mysticetes or baleen whales and Odontocetes or toothed whales.
Being mammals, all whales breathe air through one or more blowholes on top of the head, and so must surface frequently to breathe. The body temperature is maintained around 96 degrees F by means of thick layers of fat blubber. Whales have a horizontal tail which beats up and down, not vertical and side to side as in the case of fish, including sharks.
The female gives birth to live young after a gestation period of about twelve months. The young emerge tail first to prevent them drowning and immediately after breaking the umbilical cord must rise to the surface to breathe.March 1978
A very large whale, reported to be 42 feet long and weighing 30 tons, was washed ashore in Ras al Khaimah. The Press quoted a UAE University Professor as identifying it as a Blue Whale - Balaenoptera musculus, but no other details were reported.11th January 1980
A 14 foot long female False Killer Whale - pseudorca crassidens - was caught in a net by a local fisherman and beached near the Port road on Abu Dhabi Island. There is a record from Karachi, Pakistan in 1977, but nothing from the Gulf in recent years. It is primarily an oceanic species believed to be worldwide in tropical and temperate seas, and not often encountered close inshore. (see Bulletin No. 10, page 25).
Eileen and Roger Brown found a dead and rapidly decomposing dolphin on the beach at Khalidiyah Point, Abu Dhabi Island. I joined them to take measurements and if possible to recover the gonads or reproductive organs for Mr. Dennis McBrearty of Cambridge University to study further. We tentatively identified it as a Bottle-nosed Dolphin - Tursiops truncatus or Tursiops aduncus. We retained the skull for future study as we could not be sure. The list of measurements is given, but I have to report that because we were not suitably trained we did not find our treasure amongst the miles of internals which spilled out during our attempts at dissection. Eileen wielded the knife with skill in conditions which were not remotely like carving the lunchtime turkey.11th January 1981
Peter King reported that whilst on a visit to the Fateh Oil platform, off Dubai, he saw a large unidentified whale. The weather was sunny and the sea calm, so he had a good view of it as it slowly cruised just below the surface around the structure legs. It was estimated at 20 feet in length, light grey in colour with orange spots. The head was flat taking up one quarter of the body length and the tail horizontal. It was followed by a considerable number of smaller fish.April 1981
A pilot of Abu Dhabi Helicopters reported a second-hand sighting by a fellow pilot of two whales accompanied by two young. Unfortunately no other details were forthcoming.15th November, 1982
The Khaleej Times reported a whale in Jebel Ali Harbour, Dubai, describing it as large, bluish black and between 30 and 50 feet long.23rd May, 1983
A large whale, estimated to be 30 feet long, was reported at a point 20 nautical miles from Abu Dhabi towards Zakum field. It was identified from a photograph as a baleen whale, probably a Blue Whale.
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