UAE tourists get to swim with orcas in Musandam

FUJAIRAH // It’s a rare treat to see orcas in the warm water of the Arabian Sea. It’s even rarer to have the chance to swim with them.

But that’s what UAE tourists experienced on a trip in Musandam, Oman on Friday when a mother orca and her calf swam alongside their boat.

Several people jumped in to swim with the orcas, which are also known as killer whales despite being members of the dolphin family.

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<div class=”embedObjects”><div class=”responsive-container”><iframe src=”http://players.brightcove.net/72178649001/Bkguh7TDH_default/index.html?videoId=5392594624001″ allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen></iframe></div>Video courtesy Mohammed Al Shaar</div>

“They seemed very curious,” said Laura Broadhurst, a Briton who lives in Dubai. “They came right alongside the boat to have a good look at us. They seemed to be playing, slapping the water with their tails.

“I studied marine biology at university, with marine mammals being my main area of interest, so I knew how rare it was to be seeing orcas in this area and what a once-in-a-lifetime experience it was likely to be. This was my first diving trip in a few years, so it was extra exciting.

“I have seen many whales in the past but these were the first killer whales.”

The orcas were off the coast of Limah, in the Omani exclave. The mother was about 9 metres long and her calf about 6.

Christophe Chellapermal, manager of Nomad Ocean Adventures in Oman and the UAE, said his group saw the orcas on Friday about 3.30pm.

“It is a really unusual to come across orcas in the region,” Mr Chellapermal said. “We were 11 people on the boat on our way back from a diving trip and I immediately recognised them as orcas as their fins are very rigid and pointy.”

The pair were about 300 metres away from the shore.

<div class=”embedObjects”><img src=”http://www.thenational.ae/assets/otherimages/on11ap-orca.jpg” alt=”Orcas” width=”475″ height=”285″></div>

“They are amazing creatures to approach and are absolutely inoffensive. There were some attack reports but only with orcas that were held captive and are very frustrated,” Mr Chellapermal said.

“Being able to watch such a beautiful animal for 15 to 20 minutes in the wild is a genuine experience of a lifetime.”

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Ms Broadhurst’s friend Kirsty Hill was also pleased to have seen them.

“They looked like they were playing together, jumping out from the water and flapping their fins, creating noise and a splash,” she said.

Mohammed Al Shaar, owner of Nomad Ocean Adventures in Oman, said he saw the orcas on Saturday between 3pm and 4pm.

“I was on a fishing trip with about nine people and suddenly they appeared from the water,” said Mr Al Shaar. “It was a great experience and they stayed for about an hour.”

<div class=”embedObjects”><div class=”responsive-container”><iframe src=”http://players.brightcove.net/72178649001/Bkguh7TDH_default/index.html?videoId=5392614248001″ allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen></iframe></div>Video courtesy Christophe Chellapermal</div>

Dr Ada Natoli, founder of the UAE Dolphin Project, said sightings of orcas have been recorded around the country since 2008.

“We can’t say that they are frequently spotted but there is at least one sighting a year either inside the Gulf or Musandam area,” Dr Natoli said.

“Killer whales belong to the dolphin family and are considered real hunters. They are carnivores with big teeth and they are over 5 metres in length. So I don’t recommend swimming with them, or any type of dolphin.

“They are the most widespread dolphins in the world and they can live in any type of water, so it’s not surprising to see them here. They can come near the shore as they follow the fish.”

Orcas were also seen off Abu Dhabi in March 2015.

rhaza@thenational.ae

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