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Whales and dolphins of the UAE

Perhaps a third of the 80 known species of whales and dolphins, or cetaceans as they are collectively called, may occur off the shores of the United Arab Emirates. Some are far more common than others and many, such as the shy beaked whales, have yet to be confirmed in UAE waters but are thought to occur here due to sightings in neighbouring Oman, or simply due to their known habitat preferences. The deep underwater canyons and cliffs on the edge of the continental shelf off UAE's east coast is where most species can be found, including deep water cetaceans like the mighty sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus ) and the Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus ). The warm, sandy shallows of the Arabian Gulf are in strong contrast to the east coast environment, and host some species adapted for shallow water life, such as the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis ) and the rare finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides). Many other species are at home in either environment.

Watching whales and dolphins in the UAE
It is possible to view whales and dolphins in the UAE's waters most of the year, although a choppy sea provides remarkably good cover for an arching back and dorsal fin of even the largest of whales. Conditions are ideal in the UAE from late March to July, when the sea-surface is calm although the humidity and temperatures in May and June can be uncomfortable. However, whale and dolphin watching can be rewarding at almost any time. Only the northerly winter winds, or 'Shamal', of December to February are likely to create viewing difficulties.

Early mornings and evenings are usually the best times to look for cetaceans, as the sea is often calmer and the light better. They can be found any distance offshore, the majority of sightings of dolphins so far being fairly close to shore, whereas whales are more often found well offshore. It is possible to watch some cetaceans from the land, including both whales and dolphins. Most likely to be seen are the bottlenose and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. Far better, however, is to venture slowly out to sea by boat, sit back, wait, watch and listen.

It is possible to hear the blow of a whale from quite a distance, even before you have seen it. Listen too, for splashes. The thunderous sound of a breaching whale can carry over a couple of kilometres and whales in such a mood have been sighted from as fas away as 8 to 10 kms. On days when the sea is calm, however, the general atmosphere created by the quiet, glassy water often pervades through schools of dolphins and whale pods, which loll peacefully on the surface, allowing boats to approach to within a few metres. On occasion whales 10 to 12m long have slowly swum under boatloads of onlookers, providing captivating and memorable close-up views as they surface nearby.

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