Mr. Howard Gray, BSc (Hons)
I have periodically lived in the middle east for over 15 years. Much of this time has been spent in Oman where my current PhD project is based. Upon completion of my BSc degree in zoology at Durham, I joined the Environment Society of Oman (ESO) Whale and Dolphin Research Group as a volunteer research assistant. Over time I have become increasingly involved in the team's research activities and have developed a part-time PhD project on the population genetics of small cetaceans in the region.
The importance of undertaking conservation work on small cetaceans in Oman has been demonstrated from previous work by the ESO Whale and Dolphin Research Group. ESO fieldwork efforts and recommendations were reported to the International Whaling Committee (IWC), which convened in Oman in 1998. During the meeting, grave concerns were raised on the impacts of fisheries efforts, pollution, habitat degradation and habitat fragmentation, as caused by human activities and development, on small cetaceans in the region. This was reflected in the increasing number of reports of mortalities, with strong evidence of fisheries interactions in particular (IWC, 1999). Surveys conducted by ESO have indeed revealed that the number of stranded animals is concentrated in areas of intensive fishing effort and fish landing sites (Collins et al. 2002). Furthermore, as Oman's coasts develop, areas of construction, shipping and oil exploration are overlapping with identified habitat for many nearshore small cetacean species in Oman. The effective conservation and management of impacted small cetacean populations will depend on an understanding of species distributions, stock structure within species, genetic diversity and population size.
From the year 2000 onwards, work conducted by ESO has revealed Oman to host an isolated and endangered population of humpback whales, formally recognised by the International Whaling Commission (IWC, 2010) and IUCN Red List (Minton et al. 2008). Genetic analysis and dedicated field surveys have enabled this critical information to be used for local management of this species. This PhD project will link with ESO's ongoing cetacean fieldwork in Oman and will broaden the scope of these efforts through a focus on small cetaceans, particularly bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops spp.) and common dolphins (Delphinus sp.), in the same waters.
Understanding the relationships and fine scale population structure between small cetacean populations within Oman and beyond is critical in planning conservation efforts. As with the humpback whales, evidence indicating an isolated status would enhance the global significance/importance of the cetacean populations off Oman and the region. For both Tursiops and Delphinus species, the taxonomy is poorly known, fine scale population structure is common and the identification of new species, subspecies or isolated populations in these waters is likely (see Natoli et al. 2004; 2006).
- Environment Society of Oman
- Oman Whale and Dolphin Research Group