Times of Oman
Nov 28, 2015 LAST UPDATED AT 12:02 PM GMT
"Stranded whale at the Ras Noas beach, Oman was on food hunting mission"
August 4, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Experts say that the beached whale was just a calf and lacked the experience needed to free itself from the sand. Photo: Supplied

Muscat: The Orca, commonly known as killer whale, which had beached at the Ras Noas beach in the Dhofar governorate recently and was rescued by environmental experts, might have been chasing its lunch.

Dr Hamad Al Ghailani, community outreach manager and environmental expert, Environmental Society of Oman (ESO) explained: "You have two types of whales, those with teeth and those with baleen plates. Toothed whales go for the bigger fish. The killer whale was probably chasing a tuna that ambled close to the beach but the whale's momentum got the better of it."

The experts from the national division of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs worked hard to rescue the whale and return it to the sea.

Explaining that whales normally throw themselves out of the sea and end up beaching themselves as they dive at food, Dr Al Ghailani said, "Orcas or killer whales are known for their beach hunting. However, only adult Orcas are capable of doing this as they home in on one of their most common meals, sea lions (in the North Atlantic), and beach temporarily to grab their prey, and then wriggle back into the sea. In this case, the beached whale was just a calf and lacked the experience needed to free itself from the sand."

Dr Hamad added, "As soon as an incident is reported, we are notified immediately and our team takes action."

Oman is home to more than 20 species of whales and dolphins, accounting for over a quarter of the world's species, including the genetically distinct and non-migratory Arabian Sea Humpback Whale.

Dr Hamad said ESO is cooperating with MECA and Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries as they study the cetaceans in the region where each division has a specific role. "We at the ESO are the only company in the Sultanate authorised to collect samples of cetaceans for studies," said Dr Hamad. "We have a response team to tend to these stranded creatures on standby that handles the research and rescue missions of cetaceans."

According to ESO's website, the stranding response team is in charge of emergency rescue, maintenance of a database of cetacean sightings and strandings dating back to 1970 and the collection of cetacean skulls, bones, tissue for studies and research. Skeletal material is contributed to the Natural History Museum.

It may be recalled that in line with the ongoing Renaissance Whale and Dolphin Project, the Environment Society of Oman (ESO), an officially accredited Non-Government Organisation (NGO) by the United Nations General Assembly, recently organised the first 'Whale and Dolphin Watching Guidelines Workshop' for ministry's employees and tour operators. The two-day workshop, supported by Renaissance Services SAOG and the International Whaling Commission, explored best practices and realistic field training to protect whales and dolphins from the potential harmful impact of tourism while formalising industry standards.

Participants were given a course on how vessels and people should behave around the animals by using caution, travelling at low speeds and being alert at all times.

Boats should maintain caution zones of at least 50 metres from dolphins and 100m from whales, approaching them parallel and slightly to the rear, not from directly behind or head-on, to avoid startling them.

The ESO's Renaissance Whale and Dolphin Project works with a group of volunteer scientists who gather information, conduct research, maintain a database of animal sightings and strandings. They also perform emergency rescue operations for whales and dolphins stranded on beaches or caught in nets.

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