Collaboration for Killer Whales in the Northern Indian Ocean

Still images extracted from video taken by fishermen on May 14 2017, near to Hendorabi Island, Hormozgan Province, Iran.

Two recent publications have  highlighted the value of regional collaboration and broad-scale (social) networking for cetacean research and conservation in the Northern Indian Ocean and Arabian Seas.

The first is a newspaper story that tells the fascinating tale of a sighting of killer whales made by an Emirati businessman on his way home from a fishing competition. A video of the sighting posted on social media drew the attention of local researcher and ASWN member, Ada Natoli, founder and director of the UAE Dolphin Project. She has been using social media to support a cetacean sightings and strandings network in the UAE.  The video footage was shared with with Georgina Gemmell, a scientist who coordinates the Northern Indian Ocean Killer Whale Alliance (NIOKWA), and other scientists in the region. Collectively they were able to determine that these whales were members of a group called ‘Pod 11’ who were first observed off Abu Dhabi in 2008, and then seven years later in Sri Lanka. You can read more about this sighting in the original newspaper article here.

The second publication is a journal article published today in ‘Zoology in the Middle East‘.  This short communication documents three killer whale sightings made in Iranian waters in 2017 and 2018. These were also sightings reported by non-scientists, recorded with video using smart phones, and then shared with cetacean researchers.  ASWN members from Iran’s Plan for the Land Society were able to collaborate with other scientists in the region, as well as the NIOKWA to analyse the video footage and identify at least one individual whale – a female or young male- who was recognisable and present in two of the 3 sightings.  Although no matches were made between this identified whale and other individuals in the NIOKWA catalogue, these three sightings from a region where so little is known about killer whale distribution and movements offer valuable insights where no previous data existed, as well as motivation to learn more about this intriguing species.

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