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Abu Dhabi works to protect dolphins.

Abu Dhabi: Eco officials are monitoring the calving of dolphins in Abu Dhabi waters for the first time as part of new efforts to protect native stocks of the water mammals, say officials.

The first vessel-based survey of dolphins recently carried out by the Environment Agency- Abu Dhabi (EAD) found two newborn calves of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, which indicate that the dolphin calving season may occur in late spring or early summer in the emirate.

The indications of the calving season were found for the first time thanks to a detailed survey in Abu Dhabi waters, which recorded 138 dolphins of two species.

Earlier, dolphin calving was not detected as there was no dedicated research institute or researchers on dolphins in Abu Dhabi, senior officials told Gulf News.

The EAD is filling that knowledge gap with its new Dolphin Conservation Programme that aims to monitor the emirate's dolphins, study their biology, habitats and geographical distribution to support the long-term conservation of the species, Ayesha Yousuf Al Beloushi, Director of Marine Biodiversity at EAD, said.

Apart from the two newborn calves, 59 Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, of which eight were calves, were recorded in the 15-day survey that covered 2,000 kilometres of Abu Dhabi's coastal waters extending from the Sila Peninsula in the west to the border with Dubai in the east. Among the 77 bottlenose dolphins, 19 were calves.

Asked whether the EAD is making any preparations to facilitate the calving season, the official said there is nothing to do but monitor it because it is a natural process.

But the agency can do something to mitigate the threats to the animals.

However, the information on major threats to dolphins in Abu Dhabi waters was not available due to lack of research.

"We have only just started data collection so this will become clear at a later date, but we do anticipate drowning from entanglement in nets to be one of the most serious threats," Ayesha said.

About the existing measures against the threats to dolphins, another senior official said, gill netting -- a fishing net which is hung vertically so that fish get trapped in it by their gills -- has been banned in Abu Dhabi. Gill netting causes drowning [from entanglement] of dolphins and other marine wildlife such as sea birds, turtles and whales, Edwin Mark Grandcourt, Manager at the Marine Assessment and Conservation Section at the EAD, said.

The ongoing assessments of threats to dolphins will at a later date help define the specific remedial action that will be taken to help in the conservation of these species, he said.

A new tracking system used in the programme will help identify individual animals in subsequent surveys.

This is the first time the EAD has used "photo-identification technology" that relies on unique markings on the dolphins' dorsal fins to identify individual animals, Grandcourt said.

The tracking system enables the team to determine movement patterns and estimate the dolphins' population size, he said.

Only one survey has been completed so far. The understanding of movement patterns will improve when more surveys are conducted, Grandcourt said.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Sep 20, 2014
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