False killer whales spotted near Fujairah for first time in almost 25 years

The species of dolphins are suspected to be more abundent in the Arabian Sea than thought

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A rarely seen marine mammal that is a close relative of the killer whale has been spotted off the coast of Fujairah for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.

A small pod of false killer whales, Pseudorca crassidens, was sighted approximately four or five kilometres off the Fujairah coastline on Saturday – 24 years after the first and last recorded sighting of this species of dolphin in the area.

Photographs of the animals taken by XR Hub Dive Centre and Ras Musandam Divers, along with an associate team member from the Fujairah Whale and Dolphin Research Project, have been verified by scientists as showing the first recorded sighting of the false killer whale in the emirate since 1995.

False killer whales are one of the larger species of dolphins — they can reach lengths of six metres and are typically found in deep tropical waters. They are identified by their elongated, tapered heads and slender body.

They have similar skull characteristics to killer whales, which is how they came by their name.

“The sighting has raised the interests of scientists, who now believe the species is probably a more regular visitor than records suggest,” said Robert Baldwin, a marine scientist and managing director of environmental consultancy Five Oceans Environmental Services.

Scientists at the Fujairah Whale and Dolphin Research Project have been surveying the emirate's waters for the past two years and, although they have not encountered false killer whales until now, they suspect that the species travels widely throughout the Arabian Sea.

“They travel through the region, as do their close relative, the killer whale, which can also be seen near Fujairah,” said Mr Baldwin.

“The rich waters of the UAE provide good hunting grounds for these remarkable, rarely seen marine mammals.”

The creatures are closely related to Risso's dolphins, pygmy killer whales and pilot whales, as well as killer whales, all of which belong to the dolphin family.

“These are likely to be the same animals recorded only a day earlier just north-east of Ras Ad-Dalaj in Musandam, Oman, by Ras Musandam Divers,” said Mr Baldwin.

“Thanks to our citizen scientists, we can add yet another species to the growing list of cetaceans that are observed in Fujairah waters."

The Fujairah Whale and Dolphin Research Project is funded by the office of Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Sharqi, Crown Prince of Fujairah, and run by the Port of Fujairah and Five Oceans Environmental Services.

In April 2018, a team of scientists conducting an aerial survey off the coast of Fujairah were surprised to spot a species never before recorded in the country's waters: the rough-toothed dolphin, which was spotted among a pod of bottlenose dolphins.

The team has also spotted the largest of the species, the Risso’s dolphin — which can weigh between 300kg and 500kg — and sperm whales during the aerial surveys.


Spotted: The marine giants that lurk in UAE waters