Major research project aims to unravel the mystery of the deep-sea whales off Fujairah’s coast

Sperm whales are believed to live in deep, dark waters a few kilometres from the shores of the east coast of the UAE but so little research has been done, it's hard to know for sure. With the help of the emirate's crown prince, that is about to change.

A team of international scientists will perform surveys of sperm whales and marine wildlife off the coast of Fujairah. Getty Images
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FUJAIRAH // The shallow waters off the coast of Fujairah slope seawards for several kilometres before the seabed drops off into the abyss.

At this point, deep sea cliffs and vast canyons plunge to more than 2,000 metres, forming a cold and dark unexplored world.

It is here that is believed to be the deep-sea habitat of one of the largest and most formidable predators on the planet – the sperm whale.

This is the theory behind a newly launched scientific research project with the support of Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Sharqi, Fujairah’s Crown Prince.

Led by a team of international scientists from Five Oceans Environmental Services, the project will involve scientific surveys of sperm whales and other whales and dolphins off the emirate’s coast.

The research will be based on visual transects from vessels and acoustic surveys that use hydrophones (underwater microphones) to pick up the clicks and calls that sperm whales use to navigate, find prey and communicate with other members of their pod. More than two decades ago, live sperm whales were documented when solitary males and pods of females were sighted east of Fujairah Port.

Since then, at least two dead sperm whales have washed up on the shore, suggesting their continued presence in the area.

The study’s first objective is to find out if whales still live in the area.

If, as suspected, they do, researchers will then embark on an in-depth study to understand their behaviour, ecology, seasonality and ultimately their population status, structure and origins.

The latter will involve genetic study of tissue sample collection using biopsy techniques.

Other kinds of whales and dolphins are also expected to be encountered during the surveys, as well as other marine wildlife.

Studying the large marine mammals that inhabit the waters off Fujairah’s coast is important to protecting them from threats posed by human activities such as shipping and fishing.

The second part of the research will be planned based on the results of the first phase and will encourage the participation of Emirati university students. It will seek the support of fishermen and Fujairah Port.

The public will be able to follow the progress of the study on a dedicated website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, although they have yet to be announced.