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There are 12 known species of whales (cestaceans) sharing the spectacular coastline of the Sultanate of Oman.

 

Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

bluewhale

Description: Blue whales are enormous. They are the largest of all the whales and, in fact, the largest animals ever to have lived on earth. Their heads are very broad and long, up to a quarter of the total length of their bodies. They also have a ridge running along the top of their heads and a very large splashguard in front of their two blowholes. Blue whales have pale blue or greyish coloured skin with lots of white or grey blotches, mainly behind the head. The belly of a blue whale can be white, blue or even sometimes yellow, which is why they can be known as the "Sulphur-bottom". This yellow colour is not the whale's real colour but is caused by tiny creatures called algae which attach themselves to the whale's body. Blue whales have 55 to 88 throat grooves which expand when the whale is feeding and have baleen instead of teeth. Their baleen can be up to 1 metre long! When they breathe out, their blow or spout can range from 6 to 12 metres high.

Other Names: Great northern rorqual, Sibbald's rorqual, Sulphur-bottom

Field ID: Very long streamlined body, Broad U-shaped head, Two blowholes, Huge blowhole splashguard, Throat grooves, Very high blow/spout, Blue-grey skin colour, Blotchy skin, Stubby dorsal fin.

Size: Blue whales are almost as long as a Boeing 737 aeroplane! Adults are usually 24 - 27 metres long (78.75 - 88.5 ft), new-borns approximately 7 metres (23 ft). Although the average blue whale is smaller, they can grow to be well over 30 metres - the largest ever recorded was a female, and she was more than 33 metres (110 ft) long! The largest baleen whales are generally female. Adults weigh between 100 and 120 tonnes, as much as about 2000 people which is more than 25 elephants! New-borns weigh approximately 2.5 tonnes. The heaviest blue whale ever recorded was a massive 190 tonnes.

Diet: Krill and/or other crustaceans

Behaviour: Blue whales usually swim quite slowly, but can travel at over 30km/h if they are chased. Some of them are quite easy to approach but others are more shy and can be difficult to get closer to. They probably usually dive to about 150 metres deep but can go deeper. Younger blue whales have been seen breaching but adults breach very rarely, if ever. Adults usually feed by themselves or in pairs, often widely spaced out. This could be because they each need a large area of ocean to find enough food.

 

Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera edeni)

brydeswhale

Description: Bryde's whales may be confused with sei whales, minke whales and even fin whales. However there is one important difference, Bryde's whales have three parallel ridges on their heads where the others have only two. Their slender bodies are smoky grey in colour which may seem brown in some lights. They are often mottled and slightly scarred and their undersides are light purple, grey-blue or creamy-grey. Bryde's whales have between 40 and 70 throat pleats which allow their mouths to expand when they are feeding. Their dorsal fins are erect and hooked, with a pointed tip, their tail flukes are broad with a distinct middle notch, and their flippers are slender and relatively short, approximately one tenth of their body length.

Other Names: Tropical whale

Field ID: Streamlined body, Two blowholes, Throat grooves, Pointed flippers, Blue-grey skin colour, Lighter under-side (belly), Sickle-shaped dorsal fin, Flukes rarely seen above the surface, Broad flukes , May approach boats.

Size: Bryde's whales are between 3.4 and 4 metres (11ft 3in - 13ft 3in) long when they are born. They grow to between 11.5 and 14.5 metres (37ft 9in - 47ft 6in) long and females tend to be slightly larger than males. When they are born, Bryde's whales weigh about 900kg (1985lb). When they are fully grown, they weigh between 12 and 20 tonnes.

Diet: Fish, Krill and/or other crustaceans

Behaviour: Bryde's whales usually feed alone, though mothers and calves will often feed together. They often make sudden changes of direction when feeding, both on the surface and underwater. Bryde's whales do not migrate large distances and feed all year round. Sometimes they are inquisitive around boats and will approach them or swim alongside. They do not have regular breathing patterns, but will often do 4 - 7 blows followed by a dive, usually of 2 minutes duration although they are capable of staying below the surface for longer. When surfacing between dives they rarely show more than the top of their head. Their blow or spout is tall, thin and hazy.

 

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostris)

cuviersbeakedwhale

Description: Cuvier's beaked whales appear to be one of the most abundant of the beaked whale family. Their foreheads slope gently to a slight beak which becomes less obvious with age. They have two teeth which are just visible when the mouth is closed. Their colour varies from black to brown with white or cream coloured blotches and circular scars on the underside and sides. Older males have extensive white areas from the beak to the top centre of the body. They have long, robust bodies with dorsal fins which vary from triangular to sickle-shaped. Their flukes are broad, being up to one quarter of their body length with no middle notch.

Other Names: Goose-beaked whale, Goose-beak whale, Cuvier's whale

Field ID: Long, Robust body, Goose-beak head shape, Very short beak, Teeth visible in middle of beak, Single blowhole, Short stubby flippers, Pale blotches, Broad flukes , Normally in small groups or alone.

Size: Adult Cuvier's beaked whales are between 5.5 and 7 metres (6ft 6in - 9ft 9in) long. When they are born, they are 2 or 3 metres long. Adults weigh between 2 and 3 tonnes. When they are born, they weigh approximately 250 kg (550lb).

Diet: Fish, squid

Behaviour: Cuvier's beaked whales tend to travel alone or in groups of about 10. They are not acrobatic animals although they have been observed breaching. Their blow is not noticeable unless they have just completed a long dive. Their dives usually last from 20 to 40 minutes. They lurch through the water with their heads above the surface and arch their backs steeply before deep dives when they may lift their flukes above the surface.

 

Dwarf Sperm Whale (Kogia simus)

dwarfspermwhale

Description: Dwarf sperm whales are the smallest of all the whales and are even smaller than some dolphin species. They don't often seem to grow longer than 2.5m. Generally, they live a long way from the shore and are rarely seen at sea. They are amazingly similar to pygmy sperm whales and this makes them difficult to tell apart. Dwarf sperm whales are bluish grey or dark grey-black, with squarish heads. Their snouts are slightly pointed and overlap their tiny lower jaws which contain 14 to 26 very sharp, long and curved teeth. Their dorsal fins have a broad base with a pointed tip, the flukes are broad with pointed tips, and their flippers are short and broad. Their blowholes are positioned slightly to the left.

Other Names: Owen's pygmy sperm whale

Field ID: Robust body, small size, squarish head, dark wrinkly skin, false gill behind each eye, slow and deliberate swimmer, may float motionless at the surface, simply drops below the water surface.

Size: When they are born, dwarf sperm whales are a tiny 1 metre (39in) long approximately. They grow to only between 2.1 and 2.7 metres (7 - 9ft). New-born dwarf sperm whales weigh between 40 and 50kg (90 - 110lb) and adults weigh between 135 and 275 kg (300 - 605 lb).

Diet: Mainly squid but will eat fish and crustaceans.

Behaviour: Like pygmy sperm whales, dwarf sperm whales rise slowly to the surface and drop out of sight rather than diving. They don't seem to approach boats, though they are sometimes seen basking on the surface and may allow boats to approach them. Some records note that, when resting on the surface, they float lower in the water than pygmy sperm whales. They probably travel in groups of less than 10.

 

Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

finwhale

Description: Fin whales come a close second to the world's largest whale, the blue whale. They are known to grow to more than 26 metres though the average length is much smaller. They are large, long and streamlined with silvery grey, dark grey or brownish black skin. They have asymmetrical pigmentation on their heads. On their right sides their lower lip, mouth cavity and baleen plates are white, whilst the left side is dark. Their backward sloping dorsal fins, which give fin whales their name, are more pronounced than in other baleen whales and are set far behind the centre of the body. Fin whales have baleen with fine bristles which are brownish grey to grey-white. Their baleen can be up to 70cm long.

Other Names: Finback, Finner, Common Rorqual Razorback, Herring whale

Field ID: Very long streamlined body, Smooth skin with no callosities or barnacles, Asymmetrical head pigmentation, Ridge on head, Grey white chevron, Very high blow/spout, Small fin, Normally in small groups or alone.

Size: Fin whales are the second largest animals on earth. When they are born, they are between 6 and 6.5 metres (19ft 9in - 21ft 6in) long. They usually grow to between 18 and 22 metres (59ft - 72 ft 3in). Fin whales weigh about 2 tonnes when they are born. Fully grown adults can weigh from 30 tonnes to as much as 80 tonnes.

Diet: Fish, Krill and/or other crustaceans

Behaviour: Fin whales neither avoid nor approach boats. They are fast swimmers and can be seen to breach, re-entering the water with a big splash. When fin whales eat they often turn on their sides with the right side facing downward, and in this position the lighter coloration of the head makes it less visible to the intended prey. They blow a few times at intervals of 10 to 20 seconds before diving for five to fifteen minutes (though they are capable of much longer dives). They can dive to depths of 230 metres (755ft). They live in groups of between 3 and 7 individuals, though may gather in larger groups at feeding grounds.

 

Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

humpbackwhale

Description: Humpbacks are one of the easiest species for researchers and whale watchers alike to identify. You really can't miss their flippers, which may be as much as one-third of their total body length. Their knobbly heads are also unmistakable, and they have 12 to 36 throat grooves which expand when the whale is feeding using baleen instead of teeth. Individual humpbacks are recognised by the distinctive pattern of black and white markings on the underside of the fluke (tail), clearly visible when they dive. These are as unique as a fingerprint and enable researchers to keep track of individual whales, year after year.

Other Names: Hump-backed whale

Field ID: Knobbly head, Two blowholes, Throat grooves, Very long white and/or black flippers, Body mainly black or grey, Stubby dorsal fin, Tail flukes raised before deep dive, Wavy edge to fluke (tail).

Size: Adult 11.5 - 15m (38 - 49.5ft), New-born 4 - 5m (13 - 16.5ft) Adult 25 - 30 tonnes, New-born 1 - 2 tonnes

Diet: Fish, Krill and/or other crustaceans

Behaviour: Humpback whales are natural show-offs! They seem happy to entertain whale watchers by breaching; spy-hopping; lobtailing and flipper-slapping. Hardly surprising that humpbacks are the most popular whales on whale watch trips, and probably create more great photo opportunities than any other cetacean species. Their dives usually last less than 10 minutes but can be up to 45 minutes long. Males can be quite aggressive towards each other during the breeding season and they sometimes have scars on their skin from fighting.

 

Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

minkewhale

Description: The Northern Hemisphere Minke Whale may have a black, dark brown, or grey back. All minkes have a long ridge on their head, and a tall dorsal fin far behind the centre of their back. They have a double blowhole, a sharp pointed snout, and a straight mouth line. They do not have teeth, but have hundreds of baleen plates, which hang down 20 to 30 cm from their top jaws. These baleen plates act like a sieve, and catch fish and krill from the water. Minke whales have between 50 and 70 pleats running from their throat, and ending just past their flippers. These pleats stretch apart, to allow the whale to take in huge volumes of water to filter for food. Minke whales in the Northern Hemisphere have a white band on each flipper.

Other Names:
Pikehead, Little piked whale, Little finner, Lesser finback, Lesser rorqual.

Field ID:
Streamlined body, Smooth skin with no callosities or barnacles, Sharply-pointed snout, Snout breaks surface first, Two blowholes, Throat grooves, White bands on flippers in some populations, Dark upper-side (top), Light under-side (belly), Flukes rarely seen above the surface.

Size: Adults are usually between 7 and 10m long, females generally longer than males, new-borns between 2.4 and 2.8m. Their birth weight is about 350Kg (770 lb) and they weigh between 5 and 10 tonnes by the time they are fully grown.

Diet: Fish, Krill and/or other crustaceans

Behaviour: The Minke whale tends to be a solitary animal although in feeding grounds you can see them in pairs, sometimes eating beneath flocks of feeding seabirds. When feeding they seem to be oblivious to what is going on around them, concentrating on their food! They are unlikely to bow-ride but will swim beside a vessel for quite a distance and they are relatively fast swimmers, occasionally spyhopping and breaching. They can stay underwater for as long as 20 minutes.

 

Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)

pilotwhale

Description: Short-finned pilot whales can be confused with their relatives the long-finned pilot whales, but there are various differences. Their flippers are shorter than those of the long-finned pilot whale (which is where they both obviously get their name from), with a gentler curve on the edge. They have fewer teeth than long-finned pilot whales, with 14 to 18 on each jaw. Short-finned pilot whales are black or dark grey with a grey or white cape. They have grey or almost white patches on their bellies and throats and a grey or white stripe which goes diagonally upwards from behind each eye. Adult males may have a number of scars on their bodies. Their heads are bulbous and this can become more defined in older males. Their dorsal fins vary in shape depending on how old the whale is and whether it is male or female. They have flukes with sharply pointed tips, a distinct notch in the middle and concave edges. They tend to be quite slender when they are young, becoming more stocky as they get older.

Other Names: Pothead whale, Pacific pilot whale, Shortfin pilot whale

Field ID: Stocky body, Bulbous forehead , No prominent beak, Long flippers with a sharply pointed tip, Black or dark grey colour, Fin set forward on body, Tail flukes raised before deep dive, May float motionless at the surface, Frequently seen in very large groups, Prefers deep water, May be approached.

Size: Adults are 3.5 - 6.5 metres in length. When they are born short-finned pilot whales are about 1.4-1.9 metres long. At birth, short-finned pilot whales weigh about 60kg (135lb). A fully grown adult will weigh between 1 and 4 tonnes.

Diet: Fish, Squid, Octopus

Behviour: Short-finned pilot whales are very sociable and are rarely seen alone. They are found in groups of 10-30, though some pods are as large as 60. They are sometimes seen logging and will allow boats to get quite close. They rarely breach, but may be seen lobtailing (slapping their flukes on the water surface) and spyhopping (poking their heads above the surface). Before diving, they arch their tails and raise them above the surface. When coming to the surface to breath, adults tend to show only the top of their head, whereas calves will throw their entire head out of the water. Adults occasionally porpoise (lift most of the body out of the water) when swimming particularly quickly.

 

Pygmy Killer Whale (Feresa attenuata)

pygmykillerwhale

Description: Pygmy killer whales are about the same size as many dolphins, and have robust bodies, with a dark 'cape' along their back. They have slightly paler blue- black, or brownish grey sides, and a large white patch on their belly which is split in half by a deep groove. They have very rounded foreheads without a beak and some animals may have a white chin under their lower lip. The dorsal fin is tall and slightly pointed, and the flippers are long with rounded tips. The upper jaw has between 16 and 24 sharply pointed teeth, and the lower jaw has between 20 and 26.

Other Names: Slender blackfish, Slender pilot whale

Field ID: Robust body, Small size, Bulbous forehead, no teeth visible, White "lips", White chin, Flippers, flukes and fin are dark, Long, broad, spatulate flippers, Grey / brown in colour, Dark cape (area of the back around the dorsal fin), Tall dorsal fin, White scratches and scars, Fast active swimmer, Highly acrobatic, Shows little of itself at surface, Difficult to approach, Normally avoids boats, Prefers deep water, Normally in small groups.

Size: When newborn these whales are 80cm long. Adults grow to be between 2.1 and 2.6 metres in length. 110-170 kg as adults.

Diet: Fish, Squid, Octopus, Sealions, Seals, Other marine mammals

Behaviour: Pygmy killer whales usually travel in small groups of under 50 animals. They tend to avoid boats and are difficult to approach. They very rarely bowride, spyhop or breach, but are more frequently seen resting- an action called 'logging'. This is when a group floats at the surface of the water, each animal still, and all facing in the same direction- rather like logs! They like to do this especially on sunny days! When escaping from danger they swim fast and will leap clear out of the water, bunching together in their group (called a 'pod'). Normally, each animal in the pod would swim next to the other to form a 'chorus line' of animals swimming through the ocean. When captured for marine aquariums, these whales have been very aggressive toward people and other whales- living up to their name as a 'killer' whale.

 

Pygmy Sperm Whale (Kogia breviceps)

pygmyspermwhale

Description: Pygmy sperm whales look very much like dwarf sperm whales. They are dark, steel-grey to blue-grey in colour with a paler, sometimes pinkish, underside (belly). Their heads are short and squarish, especially in adults (juveniles have a slightly more pointed head) and they have a false gill behind each eye. Their snouts overlap their tiny lower jaws which contain 20 to 32 long, sharp teeth. There are no teeth in the upper jaw. They have broad short flippers located far forward of the body and the tail is broad with a slight notch in the middle. Their blowholes are positioned slightly to the left.

Other Names: Short-headed sperm whale, Lesser cachalot

Field ID: Robust body, small size, squarish head, blue-grey skin colour, tiny, hooked fin, false gill behind each eye, slow & deliberate swimmer, may float motionless at the surface, Simply drops below surface.

Size: They are slightly bigger than the dwarf sperm whale. Adults reach 2.7 to 3.4m (9 - 11.25 ft), new-borns are about 1.2m (4ft) long. They are also heavier than dwarf sperm whales. Adults weigh 315 to 400kg (695 - 880lb), new-borns about 55kg (120lb).

Diet: Mainly squid but they will eat fish and crustaceans.

Behaviour: They seem to rise to the surface slowly and deliberately and, unlike most other small whales, slip below the surface like a stone. When startled, pygmy sperm whales may discharge a reddish brown fluid and then dive, leaving behind a dense cloud in the water to disappear behind. This may act as a decoy to help them get away, a little like a squid uses ink.

 

Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis)

seiwhale

Description: The Sei Whale is the least well-known of the balaenopteridae family. It closely resembles the others in the family and so is easily confused with Bryde's and Fin whales which it is closest to in size. The Sei whale has a single ridge that runs from the tip of its snout to the blowhole. To feed, it skims for copepods whilst swimming through the water. For this reason they have short, ventral pleats and fine baleen. Sei whales are usually found in small groups although, when food is plentiful, many more may be seen.

Other Names: Pollack whale, Coalfish whale, Sardine whale, Japan finner, Rudolphi's whale

Field ID: Ridge on head, Blowholes and dorsal fin visible at the same time, Dark coloration, Sickle-shaped dorsal fin, Flukes rarely seen above the surface.

Size: Males range from 12.8 to 18.5m, females 13.4 to 21m, and new-borns 4.4 - 4.8m. Adults are around 20-30 tonnes, and their birth weight is in the region of 725kg.

Diet: Fish, Krill and/or other crustaceans, Squid

Behaviour: The Sei whale has regular dive sequence and stays near the surface quite consistently. It blows every 40-60 seconds, more frequently when preparing to dive, and then dives for between 5 - 20 minutes. When swimming, the dorsal fin and back remain visible for longer periods of time than the other large whales.
The Sei whale is capable of great speed.

 

Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephallus)

spermwhale

Description: Sperm whales have an enormous square head which is up to a third of their overall body length (males have larger heads in proportion to their bodies than females). They are covered in wrinkly prune-like skin and older males are sometimes badly scarred, especially around the head. Male sperm whales also have larger teeth than females and more of them. There are between 36 and 50 teeth in their long, narrow lower jaw. The upper jaw has tiny teeth that aren't needed and so they usually stay hidden behind the gums. The lower teeth are thick and conical, and can grow to 20cm long. Like all toothed whales, sperm whales only have a single blowhole - on the left side near the front of the head (baleen whales have two blowholes side by side). When they breathe out at the surface, their "blow" is low and bushy, and spouts forward and to the left.

Other Names: Great sperm whale, Cachalot

Field ID: Large squarish head, Single blowhole, Blow/Spout goes forward and left, Short stubby flippers, Dark wrinkly skin, Dives for long periods, Low hump instead of dorsal fin, Bumps or "knuckles" from hump to fluke, Tail flukes lifted when diving, Tail flukes are triangular, Small eye.

Size: The sperm whale is the largest of all the toothed whales (odontocetes). Adult males reach 15 - 18 metres (49 - 60ft), adult females 11 - 12 metres (36 -40ft), and new-borns are 3.5 - 4.5 metres (11.5 - 15ft)
Adults can weigh up to 50 tonnes, ranging from 20-50. New-borns are pretty heavy at about 1 tonne!

Diet: Mainly squid but they will eat fish.

Behaviour: Sperm whales spend most of their lives in either ‘nursery schools’ (adult females with male and female young) or ‘bachelor schools’ (males between about 7-27 years of age). Older males tend to live on their own or in very small groups and join nursery schools during the breeding season. Sperm whales breach and lobtail, and dive for long periods. Sperm whales are world champion divers - they are thought to dive deeper than any other mammal in the world. Typically they dive to depths of 300-600 metres, but they can reach 2000 metres, and researchers think they may be able to go as deep as 3000 metres (nearly 2 miles) at a rate of up to 3 metres per second! It may be possible for them to spend up to 2 hours underwater without coming up for a breath. Sperm whales dive to hunt for giant squid that live very deep down in the water. The whales each eat up to 1 tonne of squid every day! Some sperm whales have strange round scars all over their bodies which have been caused by the tentacles of giant squid as the two animals fight. They also hold the record for the world's heaviest brain although their brains are only about 0.02% of their total body weight. Sperm whales use echolocation to hunt their prey as it is too dark to see so far down in the ocean. This way even blind whales are able to find lots of food and don't go hungry! The large square head of the sperm whale contains a cavity large enough for a car to fit inside! It holds a yellowish wax known as spermaceti oil, which is thought to perhaps help the whales to sink. Sailors used to carve pictures on sperm whale teeth and this is known as scrimshaw.

 

Where and When to Watch? 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 so far being close to land. Recently, a pod of sperm whales, numbering over 24 individuals, including young, was sighted in deepwater some distance off Muscat.

Dolphins are easier to find than the bigger whales as they tend to swim in larger groups and surface more frequently. Splashes made by performing dolphins are often the first thing you will see. Some, such as the commonly encountered spinner dolphin, leap over 3 m into the air, before slapping back down onto the water's surface. Fleets of fishing boats may also betray the presence of dolphins as fishermen are known to follow the dolphins in search of tuna. Similarly, flocking seabirds may be an indication of dolphins or whales feeding nearby. You will certainly notice a large whale jumping out of the water, or breaching, as if in joyful mood. The thunderous splash made as it re-enters the sea cannot only be seen but may also be heard, several kilometres away.

There is no single location at which you are most likely to see cetaceans in Oman. Patient observers anywhere at sea may eventually be rewarded. However, as an initial guide, many are seen in Dhofar and around its offshore islands, which seems to be the area of greatest potential for whale -watching. The waters immediately off Muscat, however, are where the majority of whales have been seen. This is probably more a reflection of the number of whale enthusiasts in the area than the abundance of whales, but the fact remains that here too there are unique opportunities for hours of pleasurable and exciting whale -watching. Other relatively unexplored areas where whales are to be found - and who is to say how many and of which species - are the seas off the easternmost point of Arabia at the Ra's al Hadd headland, the rich and intriguing waters around Masirah Island, and the fascinating Musandam region in the extreme north.

How to identify dolphins fish? Despite the fact that they live in the ocean, dolphins are warm-blooded mammals that breathe and suckle their young.

What is the difference between dolphins and whales? There is a difference between what we call a whale and what biologically is a whale. We tend to use whale for larger mammals living in the sea. Whales have baleen whereas dolphins have teeth. Killer whales for instance therefore are technically dolphins.

What do they eat? Dolphins feed on most kinds of fish, including mullet, whiting, snapper, tuna, bream and invertebrates such as squid.

How do they sleep? Dolphins sleep on the surface with only the blow hole exposed. Dolphins are ‘conscious’ breathers, which means that they have to be awake or semi-conscious to breathe, otherwise they would drown. They doze for a few minutes at a time, and their blow hole periodically opens and closes by reflex action. They sleep in a semi-conscious state, resting one side of the brain for a short time then swapping over. This technique also allows them to be aware of any dangers.

How deep can dolphins dive? Bottlenose dolphins can dive to depths of 21 metres and even to 30 metres. Risso’s dolphins can dive to over 1000 metres.

Why do they jump? There are four probable reasons that dolphins jump: either to play, for communication with other dolphins, to get rid of parasites, or to get a better view over the water.

Do they migrate? Some species of dolphins migrate. Some species travel hundreds of kilometres in circular territory, probably for food.

What is their gestation period? Gestation lasts for 10 to 12 months.

How long do calves stay with their mothers? Calves stay with their mothers up to five years or longer. Mothers are very protective and keep the calf at their side at all times during this period.

What do their sounds mean? Dolphins use sound (ie sonar or echo-location) to find objects and hunt for fish. These sounds are of high frequency and send out at a rate of several hundred per second. The sounds bounce off objects in the water and are picked up by special tissue in the lower jaw of the dolphin which conducts the echo through to the inner ear. This allows dolphins to identify objects without having to touch them. Dolphins also sometimes use their sonar to stun fish. They also use sound to communicate with one another.

How long can dolphins stay under water? For periods of up to 1 hour, although five minutes is usually the average.

Can we see dolphins even when the sea is rough? No, we cannot since dolphins usually avoid the surface when the sea is rough.

Do dolphins look after their sick? They are known for doing so, although this behaviour has rarely been observed in the wild. Dolphins stay underneath and at the sides of the sick and by doing so keep them close to the surface so that they can breathe. However, they do give up after some time. Dolphins have also been observed swimming away from another dolphin entangled in a net.

How intelligent are dolphins? Since no one has come up with a method to successfully rate the intelligence of a human being, measuring the intelligence of other species has proven difficult if not impossible. The evaluation of dolphins’ intelligence is especially difficult, because they are adjusted to an entirely different medium, ie water. However, we can say that dolphins are fast learners and are able to generalise and learn sign language.

Are whales local or migratory? Most whales are migratory and travel to the poles in the summer and back to warm temperate waters in winter. Some populations are resident though.

Are whales and dolphins happy in captivity? No, not at all. In captivity, the average age for dolphins is 6 years. They tend to develop disturbed behavioural patterns too. Some countries, for example Britain have given up keeping dolphins in zoos.

Can you feed dolphins and whales? No, you should not. Feeding them will change their food behaviour and will have a detrimental effect on the marine life in general. If you feed dolphins or whales, you interrupt the natural food chain.

How long is the gestation period for whales? It is between 10 to 13 months. Whales give birth to a calf every 2 to 3 years.

How long is their lactation period? The calf is fed for 3 to 9 months.

How many calves do whales have? Whales gives birth to one calf at a time.

How long do whales stay underwater? They mostly stay underwater for 3 to 8 minutes. However, longer periods of up to 30 minutes have been recorded.

Can whales and dolphins communicate across species? They understand basic elements of other dolphin or whale species behaviour, some to the extent that they interbreed like rough toothed and bottlenose dolphins.

Are whales and dolphins aggressive and dangerous? Most dolphin and whale species are peaceful and rather shy. So far humans have proven to be of greater danger to whales and dolphins than the other way round. However, some species like killer whales and pygmy killer whales can become aggressive. They are much less aggressive than their names imply though. If you go diving with whales, the danger is mostly because of their size. They might harm you without intending to do so.

Why do whales strand? There are different theories on this issue. The most recent evidence suggests that whales strand if their hearing is impaired by loud noise which can be caused by the Navy’s sonar systems for instance.

Why are killer whales called killer whales? They are called killer whales due to the fact that they feed largely on warm blooded prey. They hunt even whales occasionally, therefore the name "killer (of) whales".

Why are sperm whales called sperm whales? Sperm whales were hunted for spermacetes, a substance found in their heads which was used to the production of perfumes, candles and ointments.

How well do whales and dolphins hear and see under water? Whales and dolphins hear very well underwater, though not in air. A human being’s hearing ranges from 40 Hz to 20 kHz. Dolphins use very high sounds for echolocation, so they can hear sounds as high as 150 kHz. Low sounds travel very far underwater, so whales can hear up to 20 Hz. Their sight, however, is not very good, as it is not very important underwater. In deeper waters there is darkness. Dolphins and whales, therefore, navigate by their hearing instead of their sight.

How can we distinguish a male whale from a female? At sea it is difficult to distinguish the two. Among baleen whales, females tend to be larger than males. Toothed whales males tend to be larger. They might also have other distinguishing features such as larger melons, larger dorsal fins or distinctive teeth. Watching wild dolphins is a thrilling way to start the day and the lucky may even come across one of the many species of whales that can be found just a few kilometres from Muscat’s rugged coast. Not every trip guarantees a sighting, but you are sure to enjoy a trip out to sea and enhance your knowledge of nature’s most fascinating marine mammals with the Arabian Sea Safaris on-board cetacean specialist, who will give a brief presentation on Oman’s whales and dolphins and help you understand their behaviour, ecology and lifestyle.

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