News from the field: UAE dolphins get a name!

After a slow and troubled start, we are finally full on in the field work surveying the coastal waters in front of Dubai from the Marittime City to Palm Jebel Ali, and we have to admit that either we are pretty lucky or dolphins like these waters! Out of 7 outings we spotted dolphins 6 times, including bottlenose dolphins, humpback dolphins and also finless porpoise!! Finless porpoise is indeed an unexpected surprise: we had already two sightings! This species is renown to occur in these waters but it also renown to be quite rare and very shy. There is very little information on wild finless porpoises world wide and the only data available based on by-catch and strandings sadly show a drastic decline throughout their range.

The survey is conducted following predetermined transects that ensu

Taindividuals1TAindividuals2re an homogeneous coverage of the whole designated area and once dolphins are sighted we take pictures of all the individuals present in the group. We are now starting to create a catalo

gue of fins of the individuals of bottlenose and humpback dolphins that we are able to identified and we already have some resightings of individuals in both species.

These are some of the individuals that received a name either from the people that kindly submitted the sighting with the first picture that allowed us to iden

tified the individual, or our little winners of our “Draw a dolphin”



Check this space for the net exciting news from the field and:

PLEASE REPORT YOUR SIGHTING and pictures to help us following these animals!

Thank you to Dubai Municipality to grant us with the permit to survey the Dubai coastal waters and our great sponsor Duretti Boat Manufacturing, Dubai Marina Yacht Club, ITP publishing, an anonymus sponsor and all the volunteers.


Field work on the starting line!

Feature: Cristyn  Ashley

We made it! We are finally ready to start the field work! On October 26, Dubai Marina Yacht Club, one of our main sponsors, kindly organized a community event to sign the inauguration of the UAE Dolphin Project. The focus was on raising public awareness about the project, its aims and the unveiling of the projects boat; a 30ft Duretti Sportfisher. Duretti Boat Manufacturing kindly provided the vessel so that the project could conduct dolphin research surveys along the Dubai coastline.

To kick off the event, Dr. Ada Natoli, the project coordinator gave a presentation to the members of the DMYC on why she began the project, why it is important and how everybody can contribute by reporting their sightings.  Twelve volunteers took part in putting up information posters, taking photos, and running activities including a quiz competition, draw a dolphin competition, and dolphin puzzles. The prizes included a chance to name one of the local dolphins we previously identified, a family ticket to the Dubai dolphinarium show, and first prize was the chance to become a crew member for the day and participate in data collection and recording.

There was a great turnout, and it was fantastic to see that there is such interest in local marine wildlife. We were grateful for the opportunity to answer any questions on the project and dolphins in general. Perhaps the most important opportunity was to highlight the importance of reporting any dolphin sightings by the public to this project.

Thank you DMYC for your continued support and to Brunella, Chris, Cristyn, Dan, Elias, Farah, Joel, Phil, Traill, Valerie, and Vanessa for all your help.



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First field work day and first sighting!

We made it! Our field work season has started!

Like in a puzzle where eventually all the pieces fall together to form the picture, so after a long waiting, for the boat, the marina, the fuel, we are finally starting the field work.  Patience and determination always pays off.

And what a start!

First time out and within 20 minutes from the exit of the marina on our first transect we had a sighting! Over 20 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins including one calf and one juvenile and surprisingly among them one individual, named Paso, that had been already sighted in April by a group of canoeist (Dubai Outriggers Canoe Club) that kindly reported the sighting with a video. So thanks to them we have our first mark recapture data!

Paso is a dolphin clearly recognisable because his dorsal fin has been somehow been cut.

The interesting thing is that also other adult individuals sighted were clearly marked. This means that if re-encountered we will be able to recognise them.


Far too much to process in one shot! We hope that this won’t be the “beginner’s luck” but that will only be the first of many sightings to come.


The field work implies the conduction of a transect survey. This means navigating on predetermined routes over a define area of sea at a constant speed, with calm sea and with at least two skilled observers on board. The routes are designed to ensure that the surface will be homogeneously scanned by eye.

Once dolphins are sighted the transect is interrupted and the sighting starts.

During the sighting we identify the species, we collect information about number of individuals, group composition, and we take photos of the fins of each individual.

After the sighting is terminated we return to our transect route and proceed forward.


The data collected in the field allow us to understand the occurrence, estimate the abundance and the seasonality of the dolphins in this area. The photo-identification data allow us to track the dolphins across the area and understand whether these dolphins migrate or are resident in these waters.


As you have seen with the case of Paso… everyone can contribute to this target! Please keep posting your sighting and make an effort to take pictures and post them to us! You soon may recognise some known faces… or better fins!

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Wellington International School 2C – a special dolphin class

What a special class the YR2C at Wellington International School! And what a fantastic work they are doing about dolphins and other sea creatures. It was such a pleasure to hear how much these children know about dolphins and answer to their enthusiastic questions. Thank you for contacting the UAE Dolphin Project and keep it up with your fantastic work on dolphins!!!


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First Dolphin Stranding reported on Dubai beach

It was an unexpected but welcomed call, when the other afternoon I picked up the phone and heard the voice of the Principal Marine Environment Officer of Dubai Municipality, Mr Khan, reporting that a dead dolphin had been found on the Jumeirah Beach Park.

I said: ” Oh such a sad news…Thank you! Give me an hour and I will be there!”


Strandings are always sad events, and everybody wishes to see dolphins alive rather than dead. But not having any knowledge in resuscitation techniques yet, the only thing we can effectively do is to utilise the unfortunate animal to gather as much information as we can, to hopefully help the live ones. And a stranded dolphin is a pot of gold for researchers!

Within two hours a small team consisting of one skilled veterinarian,  Dr. Ana Salbany, from Dolphin Bay Atlantis the Palm, Traill Stocker from Dubai Dolphinarium and myself were on the site.

It was indeed a dolphin. A small dolphin and surprisingly a finless porpoise!

This is supposedly the rarest species among the three species that are known to occur in UAE waters. It is a small dolphin and as by its name it has no dorsal fin. This, added to his shy and elusive behaviour makes even more difficult to sight and study them.

Very little is known about this species world wide, as very few studies have been conducted, despite the latest Red List Assessment having categorised this species as Vulnerable. Its preference of coastal shallow waters makes it even more susceptible to antropogenic impact.


Finding a dead finless porpoise is definitely a worrying sign and raises concern for the survival of this species (this is the fifth recorded stranding in the Gulf since the beginning of the year), on the other hand it is an indication that this species still occurs in this area.

We managed to collect all the necessary measurements and conduct a full necropsy. We determined that it was an adult male finless porpoise. We collected skin samples for future genetic analysis and examined all the organs. No sign of parasites were found and unfortunately due to the advanced state of decomposition we were unable to univocally determined if the cause of death could have been a boat collision or net entanglement. A full report has been compiled and sent to The Marine Environment and Wildlife Section, Dubai Municipality.


A special thank you goes to Mr. Khan, Dubai Municipality, for contacting us and to the great team that kindly agreed to join me at the site. It has been a successful first attempt and we proved that a stranding network could work if we create a communication channel and enough people that know the importance of reporting stranding.


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