Field work update: where we stand so far
We are now well into the tenth month of continuous monitoring of the Dubai coastal waters. Quite an effort! Was it worth it? Definitely yes! As first project conducting a continuous dolphin survey, we couldn’t have gone wrong, but the fact is that we now surely know a bit more about the dolphins inhabiting the Dubai coastline. With about 160 hours of positive navigation behind us, that means with always at least two people on board scanning the water, we can start pulling some data together. This hasn’t been a one man effort: 60 volunteers participated to the survey so far, making it possible and having a hands on experience on dolphin research techniques.
The data collected confirmed the presence of three species of dolphins, the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin and the finless porpoise plus enable us to collect a variety of data about other marine species such as sea snakes, sharks, cormorants and turtles. The finless porpoise presence has been a real surprise considering the elusiveness of this specie and the general decreasing population worldwide. For all species we observed the presence of calves suggesting that they all reproduce in these waters. We recorded 17 sightings so far and spent a total of 20 hours with the dolphins to collect data, such as group size, group composition, behaviour and PhotoIdentification data. Photo-identification data have been really rewarding! For both humpback and bottlenose dolphins we were able to identify single individuals and track their occurrence. In fact, we had a number of re-sighting for both species, suggesting that we are probably dealing with resident populations. Students have been working hard to analyse over 4,000 pictures and we are now at the final stage of the production of the first catalogue of recognisable dolphins available in the Gulf. The frequency of sighting hasn’t been impressive, and this is not a promising sign but we start seeing some patterns: humpback and finless porpoises seem to prefer very coastal waters, whereas bottlenose dolphins have been observed more in open waters. We are looking forward to complete the first full calendar year to then be able to run a more precise analysis, so watch this space!! The sightings reported from the public have been of invaluable help many time filling the gaps of information, inevitable working only from one boat. We will never get tired of saying it: become part of our research fleet and help us conserve the local dolphins by reporting your sightings!!!