Environment Society of Oman

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of Oman, Oman
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Scientists conducting the first circum-global assessment of mitochondrial DNA variation in the Southern Hemisphere's humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) have found that whales faithfully returning to calving grounds year after year play a major role in how populations form, according to WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), the American Museum of Natural History, and a number of other contributing organizations. The research results build on previous regional studies of genetic diversity and will help scientists to better understand how humpback whale populations evolve over time and how to best advise international management authorities. The paper titled "First Circumpolar Assessment of Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whale Mitochondrial Genetic Variation at Multiple Scales and Implications for Management" now appears in the online version of Endangered Species Research. "Exploring the relationships of humpback whales around the Southern Hemisphere has been a massive undertaking requiring years of work and collaboration by experts from more than a dozen countries," said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, Director of WCS's Ocean Giants Program and lead author on the study. "Our findings give us insights into how fidelity to breeding and feeding destinations persist over many generations, resulting in differences between whale populations, and why some populations are more genetically differentiated from the rest. From these efforts, we are in better positions to inform actions and policies that will help protect Southern Hemisphere humpback whales across their range, as well as in the Arabian Sea." In the largest study of its kind to date, researchers used mitochondrial DNA microsatellites from skin samples gathered from more than 3,000 individual humpback whales across the Southern Hemisphere and the Arabian Sea to examine how whale populations are related to one another, a question that is difficult to answer with direct observations of whales in their oceanic environment. Overall, the study's data from mitochondrial DNA -- different from nuclear DNA in that it helps scientists trace maternal lineages -- reveal that population structure in humpback whales is largely driven by female whales that return annually to the same breeding grounds and by the early experience of calves that accompany their mothers on their first round-trip migration to the feeding grounds. The persistence of return to these migratory destinations over generations, is known as 'maternally directed site fidelity'. The occasional genetic interchange between populations also seemed to correlate with feeding grounds with high densities of krill, places where whales from different populations are likely to move vast distances and come into contact with other populations. The study also identified specific populations -- those inhabiting the eastern South Pacific off of Colombia and a non-migratory population in the Arabian Sea--as more genetically distinct and isolated from other nearby populations and perhaps in need of additional management and conservation consideration. "Our increased understanding of how whale populations are structured can help governments and inter-governmental organizations like the International Whaling Commission improve management decisions in the future," said Dr. C. Scott Baker of Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute and a member of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium that contributed to the study. The humpback whale reaches a body length of 50 feet and, as a largely coastal species, is popular with whale watch operations around the world. Before receiving international protection in 1966, humpback whales were targeted by commercial whaling vessels that nearly drove the species into extinction. This included more than 45,000 humpback whales taken illegally by the Soviet Union after World War II. Current threats to humpback whales include ship strikes, underwater noise, pollution, and entanglement in fishing gear. These threats are particularly pertinent to humpback whales in the Arabian Sea, a genetically isolated population numbering fewer than 100 animals and currently listed on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species as "Endangered." WCS's research is done in collaboration with a number of regional and local partners in the Arabian Sea working on advocacy and conservation, notably the Environment Society of Oman, among others. The authors of the study are: Howard C. Rosenbaum of WCS and AMNH (American Museum of Natural History); Francine Kershaw of Columbia University and the Natural Resources Defense Council; Martín Mendez of WCS; Cristina Pomilla of AMNH and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, United Kingdom; Matthew S. Leslie of AMNH and the Smithsonian Institution; Ken P. Findlay of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa; Peter B. Best of the University of Pretoria, South Africa; Timothy Collins of WCS; Michel Vely of Association Megaptera, France; Marcia H. Engel of Projeto Baleia Jubarte/Instituto Baleia Jubarte, Brazil; Robert Baldwin of the Five Oceans Environmental Services LLC, Sultanate of Oman; Gianna Minton of Megaptera Marine Conservation, the Netherlands; Michael Meÿer of Oceans and Coasts, Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa; Lilian Flórez-González of Fundación Yubarta, Colombia; M. Michael Poole of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium, Cook Islands; Nan Hauser of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium and Cook Islands Whale Research, Cook Islands; Claire Garrigue of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium (Cook Islands) and Opération Cétacés (New Caledonia); Muriel Brasseur of Edith Cowan University, Australia; John Bannister of the Western Australian Museum; Megan Anderson of Southern Cross University, Australia; Carlos Olavarría of the University of Auckland (New Zealand) and Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Aridas (Chile); and C. Scott Baker of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium (Cook Islands) and Oregon State University.

Mendez M.,American Museum of Natural History | Mendez M.,Wildlife Conservation Society | Jefferson T.A.,Clymene Enterprises | Kolokotronis S.-O.,Fordham University | And 18 more authors.
Molecular Ecology | Year: 2013

The conservation of humpback dolphins, distributed in coastal waters of the Indo-West Pacific and eastern Atlantic Oceans, has been hindered by a lack of understanding about the number of species in the genus (Sousa) and their population structure. To address this issue, we present a combined analysis of genetic and morphologic data collected from beach-cast, remote-biopsied and museum specimens from throughout the known Sousa range. We extracted genetic sequence data from 235 samples from extant populations and explored the mitochondrial control region and four nuclear introns through phylogenetic, population-level and population aggregation frameworks. In addition, 180 cranial specimens from the same geographical regions allowed comparisons of 24 morphological characters through multivariate analyses. The genetic and morphological data showed significant and concordant patterns of geographical segregation, which are typical for the kind of demographic isolation displayed by species units, across the Sousa genus distribution range. Based on our combined genetic and morphological analyses, there is convincing evidence for at least four species within the genus (S. teuszii in the Atlantic off West Africa, S. plumbea in the central and western Indian Ocean, S. chinensis in the eastern Indian and West Pacific Oceans, and a new as-yet-unnamed species off northern Australia). © 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Ponnampalam L.S.,Environment Society of Oman | Ponnampalam L.S.,University Marine Biological Station Millport | Ponnampalam L.S.,University of Malaya | Collins T.J.Q.,Environment Society of Oman | And 7 more authors.
Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom | Year: 2012

This study examined the stomach contents of 11 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.), five Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) and two spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) that were found stranded along the Omani coastline. Across the three species examined, a total of 4796 fish otoliths and 214 cephalopod beaks were found, representing at least 33 species in 22 families. Prey item importance was calculated using the percentage by number and percentage by frequency of occurrence methods, and a modified index of relative importance. The fish families Apogonidae, Carangidae and Scombridae were the most numerically important prey of the bottlenose dolphins. Sciaenidae was the most numerically important fish family for the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. The myctophid Benthosema pterotum formed the majority of the prey items of spinner dolphins. Cephalopod remains found in the stomach samples were represented by the families Sepiidae, Loliginidae and Onychoteuthidae. The known depth distribution of prey items of bottlenose dolphins indicated that the animals fed in a wide variety of habitats. Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin prey items indicated feeding in shallow coastal areas. Spinner dolphins appear to have exploited the upper 200 m of the water column for food, where their vertically migrating mesopelagic prey are found at night. Most prey species found in the stomach contents do not appear to be of current commercial importance in Oman. However, the findings here indicated that all three species of dolphins were feeding in areas where artisanal and/or commercial fishing occurs and has conservation implications. © 2012 Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.

Charles Anderson R.,PO Box 2074 | Branch T.A.,University of Washington | Alagiyawadu A.,Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel | Baldwin R.,Environment Society of Oman | Marsac F.,University of Cape Town
Journal of Cetacean Research and Management | Year: 2012

There is a distinct population of blue whales, Balaenoptera musculus, in the northern Indian Ocean. The taxonomie status of these animals has long been uncertain, with debate over whether this population represents a distinct subspecies, and if so which name should apply. They have most frequently been assigned to B. musculus brevicauda, but are currently considered to be B. m. indica. The movements of these blue whales within the northern Indian Ocean are poorly understood. This paper reviews catches (n = 1,288), sightings (n = 448, with a minimum of 783 animals), strandings (n = 64) and acoustic detections (n = 6 locations); uses ocean colour data to estimate seasonality of primary productivity in different areas of the northern Indian Ocean; and develops a migration hypothesis. It is suggested that most of these whales feed in the Arabian Sea off the coasts of Somalia and the Arabian peninsula during the period of intense upwelling associated with the southwest monsoon (from about May to October). At the same time some blue whales also feed in the area of upwelling off the southwest coast of India and west coast of Sri Lanka. When the southwest monsoon dies down in about October-November these upwellings cease. The blue whales then disperse more widely to eke out the leaner months of the northeast monsoon (during about December to March) in other localised areas with seasonally high productivity. These include the east coast of Sri Lanka, the waters west of the Maldives, the vicinity of the Indus Canyon (at least historically), and some parts of the southern Indian Ocean. The data are consistent with the hypothesis that at least some of the blue whales that feed off the east coast of Sri Lanka in the northeast monsoon also feed in the Arabian Sea during the southwest monsoon. These whales appear to migrate eastwards past the north of Maldives and south of Sri Lanka in about December-January, returning westwards in about April-May.

Pomilla C.,Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute | Amaral A.R.,Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute | Amaral A.R.,University of Lisbon | Collins T.,Southwest Fisheries Science Center | And 9 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2014

A clear understanding of population structure is essential for assessing conservation status and implementing management strategies. A small, nonmigratory population of humpback whales in the Arabian Sea is classified as "Endangered" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, an assessment constrained by a lack of data, including limited understanding of its relationship to other populations. We analysed 11 microsatellite markers and mitochondrial DNA sequences extracted from 67 Arabian Sea humpback whale tissue samples and compared them to equivalent datasets from the Southern Hemisphere and North Pacific. Results show that the Arabian Sea population is highly distinct; estimates of gene flow and divergence times suggest a Southern Indian Ocean origin but indicate that it has been isolated for approximately 70,000 years, remarkable for a species that is typically highly migratory. Genetic diversity values are significantly lower than those obtained for Southern Hemisphere populations and signatures of ancient and recent genetic bottlenecks were identified. Our findings suggest this is the world's most isolated humpback whale population, which, when combined with low population abundance estimates and anthropogenic threats, raises concern forits survival. We recommend an amendment of the status of the population to "Critically Endangered" on the IUCN Red List. ©2014 Pomilla et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

PubMed | Environment Society of Oman, University of Pretoria, Humpback Whale Project Humpback Whale Institute, New York University and 7 more.
Type: | Journal: Molecular ecology | Year: 2016

Elucidating patterns of population structure for species with complex life histories, and disentangling the processes driving such patterns, remains a significant analytical challenge. Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) populations display complex genetic structures that have not been fully resolved at all spatial scales. We generated a data set of nuclear markers for 3575 samples spanning the seven breeding stocks and substocks found in the South Atlantic and western and northern Indian Oceans. For the total sample, and males and females separately, we assessed genetic diversity, tested for genetic differentiation between putative populations and isolation by distance, estimated the number of genetic clusters without a priori population information and estimated rates of gene flow using maximum-likelihood and Bayesian approaches. At the ocean basin scale, structure is governed by geographical distance (IBD P<0.05) and female fidelity to breeding areas, in line with current understanding of the drivers of broadscale population structure. Consistent with previous studies, the Arabian Sea breeding stock was highly genetically differentiated (F

Corkeron P.J.,Integrated Statistics | Corkeron P.J.,Cornell University | Corkeron P.J.,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Minton G.,Environment Society of Oman | And 6 more authors.
Endangered Species Research | Year: 2011

Habitat models are tools for understanding the relationship between cetaceans and their environment, from which patterns of the animals' space use can be inferred and management strategies developed. Can working with space use alone be sufficient for management, when habitat cannot be modeled? Here, we analyzed cetacean sightings data collected from small boat surveys off the coast of Oman between 2000 and 2003. The waters off Oman are used by the Endangered Arabian Sea population of humpback whales. Our data were collected primarily for photo-identification, using a haphazard sampling regime, either in areas where humpback whales were thought to be relatively abundant, or in areas that were logistically easy to survey. This leads to spatially autocorrelated data that are not amenable to analysis using standard approaches. We used quasi-Poisson generalized linear models and semi-parametric spatial filtering to assess the distribution of humpback and Bryde's whales in 3 areas off Oman relative to 3 simple physiographic variables in a survey grid. Our analysis focused on the spatial eigenvector filtering of models, coupled with the spatial distribution of model residuals, rather than just on model predictions. Spatial eigenvector filtering accounts for spatial autocorrelation in models, allowing inference to be made regarding the relative importance of particular areas. As an exemplar of this approach, we demonstrate that the Dhofar coast of southern Oman is important habitat for the Arabian Sea population of humpback whales. We also suggest how conservation planning for mitigating impacts on humpback whales off the Dhofar coast could start. © Inter-Research 2011.

Mendez M.,American Museum of Natural History | Mendez M.,Columbia University | Mendez M.,Wildlife Conservation Society | Subramaniam A.,Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory | And 13 more authors.
Heredity | Year: 2011

Genetic analyses of population structure can be placed in explicit environmental contexts if appropriate environmental data are available. Here, we use high-coverage and high-resolution oceanographic and genetic sequence data to assess population structure patterns and their potential environmental influences for humpback dolphins in the Western Indian Ocean. We analyzed mitochondrial DNA data from 94 dolphins from the coasts of South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania and Oman, employing frequency-based and maximum-likelihood algorithms to assess population structure and migration patterns. The genetic data were combined with 13 years of remote sensing oceanographic data of variables known to influence cetacean dispersal and population structure. Our analyses show strong and highly significant genetic structure between all putative populations, except for those in South Africa and Mozambique. Interestingly, the oceanographic data display marked environmental heterogeneity between all sampling areas and a degree of overlap between South Africa and Mozambique. Our combined analyses therefore suggest the occurrence of genetically isolated populations of humpback dolphins in areas that are environmentally distinct. This study highlights the utility of molecular tools in combination with high-resolution and high-coverage environmental data to address questions not only pertaining to genetic population structure, but also to relevant ecological processes in marine species. © 2011 Macmillan Publishers Limited All rights reserved.

MiNTON G.,Environment Society of Oman | MiNTON G.,University Malaysia Sarawak | Collins T.,Environment Society of Oman | Collins T.,Wildlife Conservation Society | And 6 more authors.
Journal of Cetacean Research and Management | Year: 2011

Previously published data on the occurrence of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Arabian Sea suggests that the region hosts a non-migratory population that adheres to a Northern Hemisphere breeding cycle. In order to investigate the distribution and abundance of this population, twelve small boat surveys were conducted in three main locations off the coast of Oman between February 2000 and November 2004. Humpback whales were observed during surveys in Dhofar and Gulf of Masirah on Oman's Arabian Sea coast, but not during surveys in the Muscat region in the Gulf of Oman. An even ratio of males to females was observed and sampled during surveys in the Gulf of Masirah, which was surveyed in October and November (n = 38), while almost all whales sampled in Dhofar in February/March were male (n = 28). Song was detected frequently in the bay surrounding the Halaniyat Islands (formerly known as the Kuria Muria Bay) in February/March, but observations of mother-calf pairs were sparse, and competitive groups were absent. Feeding was observed in both October/November and February/March, but behavioural and environmental observations indicate that the Gulf of Masirah is primarily an important feeding ground, while the Dhofar region, particularly the Halaniyat Bay, may be a breeding area. However, limited survey effort and a lack of recent observations of mother-calf pairs or competitive groups raises the possibility that the primary mating, calving and nursing areas are yet to be identified. Sixty-four individual whales were identified using photographs of dorsal fins or tail flukes. A high rate of re-sightings between years and between survey areas at different times of the year indicates year-round residence off the coast of Oman. A Chapman's modified Petersen estimator was applied to various data pairings to calculate abundance. AU pairings yielded estimates of less than 100 individuals, but sample sizes were small and there were various sources of possible bias. Analysis of scarring on the caudal peduncle region of identified individuals in Oman indicates that between 30 and 40% are likely to have been involved in entanglements with fishing gear. Comparison of the Oman photo-identification catalogue with those from Zanzibar, Antongil Bay (Madagascar) and Mayotte and the Geyser Atoll (Comoros Archipelago), yielded no photographic matches. These data are consistent with the hypothesis of a discrete population. The distribution of fluke pigmentation rankings from the Oman catalogue, which varied significantly from those of Madagascar and Mayotte, provides further evidence for this theory. The evidence presented here provides a strong underpinning for the recent IUCN Red List classification of the Arabian Sea sub-population of humpback whales as Endangered. In light of ongoing coastal development and other threats to this population's habitat and future survival, urgent research and conservation measures are recommended.

Van Bressem M.F.,Cetacean Conservation Medicine Group CMED | Minton G.,Environment Society of Oman | Collins T.,Wildlife Conservation Society | Willson A.,Environment Society of Oman | And 3 more authors.
Zoology in the Middle East | Year: 2015

The presence of tattoo-like skin disease is reported in an endangered, non-migratory subpopulation of Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) from Oman. We examined 522 images taken during small-boat surveys in the Gulf of Masirah and in Dhofar in 2000-2006 and in 2010-2011. Tattoo-like lesions were detected in regular, good and outstanding images. They appeared as irregular or rounded, light grey marks often showing a whitish outline, and were located on the flanks, dorsum, dorsal fin and caudal peduncle. They could be relatively small to very large and cover up to an estimated 40% of the visible body surface. Over the whole study period disease prevalence reached 21.7% in 60 whales and 16.7% in 36 adults. In this category, prevalence was higher in males (26.7%, N=15) than in females (9.1%, N=11), but the difference was not significant. Lesions appeared larger in males than in the positive female and progressed in two males. Disease prevalence increased significantly from 2000 through 2011 (r2 =0.998). Advanced tattoo skin disease, with lesions extending over more than 10% of the visible body surface seemed to occur more frequently in 2010-2011 than in 2000-2006, but samples were small. This is the first confirmed report of tattoo-like disease in the Balaenopteridae family and the first time it is documented in the Arabian Sea. The disease high prevalence, its increase over time and its progression in some individuals are of concern. © 2014 Taylor and Francis.

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