About the Project

The shallow seas along the coast of the Emirate of Fujairah slope seawards for several kilometres before the seabed drops precipitously. Deep sea underwater cliffs and vast canyons plunge to over 2,000m deep, punctuated by sea mounts, pinnacles and ridges.
This unexplored underwater realm is cold and dark, and carries the immense pressure of the weight of the water above it. It is hard to imagine that life could thrive in such conditions, and yet this deep sea habitat supports one of the largest and most formidable predators on the planet – the mighty sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus).

This at least is the theory behind the Emirate of Fujairah whale study, supported by the Office of His Highness the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Fujairah, U.A.E. The study is lead by a team of international whale scientists from Five Oceans Environmental Services and will involve systematic scientific surveys to detect the presence of sperm whales and other whales and dolphins off the Emirate, based on visual transects from vessels and acoustic surveys using hydrophones (underwater microphones) to record the variety of vocalisations that sperm whales use to navigate, find prey and communicate with other members of their pod.

Live sperm whales were documented off the Emirate over twenty years ago, when both solitary males and a pod of females were sighted due east of the Port of Fujairah. A stranding of an adult sperm whale in 2012, and more recent video footage recorded on social media of juvenile sperms whales off the Emirate, confirms their continued presence here. Finding out more about where they spend their time and whether there is any seasonality to their occurrence is the initial objective of the study. Once some basic occurrence data have been obtained sperm whales will be subject to more in depth study to better understand their behaviour, ecology, seasonality and ultimately their population status, structure and origins. The latter will involve genetic study of DNA based on tissue sample collection using biopsy techniques.

Although very large, with males weighing up to 40 tonnes and measuring up to 16 meters, sperm whales are difficult to locate and study. They spend long periods of time underwater, regularly diving to depths of hundreds of metres and remaining submerged for up to an hour, sometimes more. It is at these depths that the whales forage, looking for prey such as giant squid and large deep sea fish that studies elsewhere in the world have shown to be among their favourite food. In the Arabian region, however, almost nothing is known about diet, or anything else to do with these mysterious creatures and the study off the Emirate of Fujairah will be the first dedicated study of sperm whales in the region.

The waters of the Emirate of Fujairah are also known to support a range of other species of whales and dolphins. Species recorded to date, both during this project and previously, include common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), killer whales (Orcinus orca), false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens), Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus), spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) and striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba). Other marine wildlife is also encountered offshore, such as seabirds, turtles, game fish, sharks and rays. Dedicated scientific research on sea snakes over the past few years, also supported by His Highness the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Fujairah, U.A.E., has also revealed a remarkable diversity of sea snakes, with a total of eight of the nine species known in the region having been recorded.