Monday,19 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)
Monday,19 February, 2018
Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Tale of a whale

A whale which visited Marina Beach has become the main attraction. Mai Samih reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

A fin whale was spotted by guests at the Marina resort this week, on 5 July, in Maraqia in Alexandria on 6 July, and in the Marbella resort near Hammam city two days later. Videos of the whale have been shared on social media.

General Manager of the North District Protectorates Mohamed Al-Essawi gives more details: “The first notification we received of the existence of a whale was on 5 July at 6:20am. It was trying to swim under bridge No 22 in Marina in the Fifth District. We then started to scan where we were told the whale had passed through, especially the industrial district and the nearby lake. We worked until 1am the next day.

“Its presence in the sea is no threat to the public,” Al-Essawi added to calm fears.

“The Ministry of Environment was informed by citizens that a whale was spotted in the Marina area on 5 and 6 July. We formed a central operations room at the Environmental Affairs Department composed of experts from the Department of Environmental Protection as well as relevant sectors and a specialised scientific group to spot and monitor the movement of the creature and to co-ordinate with the concerned parties to help it exit the shallow water it is in. This will enable it to return to its normal environment in deep water. At the moment experts are scanning the areas that the whale was last spotted as well as where it is expected to go, to deal with the situation on the spot,” Minister of Environment Khaled Fahmi said in a press statement, adding that the team went directly to where the whale was sighted and contacted residents there.

According to the statement, a team managed to shoot videos of the whale while it was near the shore. After analysing the videos it was clear that the whale is a Baleen Whale (toothless), also known as a fin whale. “The team is still in the area in which the whale was spotted. This type of whale is a classified species that lives in Egyptian waters and are endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which has put the whale on its red list database of endangered species.

Overfishing, pollution and the damaging of its environment as well as collisions with ships are the top threats to the whales’ existence. “Steps taken by the Ministry of Environment are in line with the efforts made to protect and maintain marine mammals as one of the most important environmental components of the sea environment, and to protect its habitat along with Egypt’s respect of international agreements to protect such important and sensitive species,” Fahmi said. Such treaties include the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS), the Convention on Protection of Species in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, and the decision by the International Whale Committee (IWC) on the banning of fishing of whales, among other agreements, the statement said.

The whale did not appear from 6am to 9pm in the last place it was seen. It was reported to be going in a vertical direction towards the sea, not parallel to the shore. The most probable explanation is that it was driven by high waves to go to the deeper parts of the sea. “If it was swimming parallel to the shore this would indicate that it is not going on its normal path and that it is lost,” Al-Essawi said.

According to Al-Essawi, each whale produces a different sound that ranges from one that resembles a cannon going off to a whistle that it uses like radar. If it does not hear an echo, it means that the site is safe. Whales can swim at speeds of from 40 kilometres to 120 kilometres an hour. If its echo system is working, then it will feel that it is too close to the shore and will go back where it came from because it will feel that it is in danger. In other cases, it could be in a state of depression and try to die on shore which is normal among whales. Sometimes a whale’s radars are disrupted by noise and it is unable to detect that it is near the shore.

Rumours abounded when the whale was first spotted. “We had many notifications that were sent to us in the form of photos that turned out not to be a whale,” says Al-Essawi. “There are some images that were shared on social media that were images of a whale taken in 2007. Other false news on social media was about a whale that said the Ministry of Environment had fished out in May while the truth is that the whale committed suicide by refusing to go back to the sea.

“We do not fish for whales. We abide by international treaties to care for these creatures and help them return to their natural habitat,” he said, adding that environmental researchers from the Obayed, Bahr Al-Ahmar and Khalig Al-Salloum protectorates are now present in areas where the whale was seen.

“We distributed the videos that were taken of the whale. We also depend on information from people who have actually seen the whale, as well as the coast guard in those three spots. The coast guard is equipped with equipment and special jet skis that can spot anything in the sea. Since Friday we have not received any reports about the whale from our sources,” Al-Essawi said.

According to a press release issued by the Ministry of Environment, the fin whale is one of the largest whales in the world. Its name is taken from its large fin at the top of its back which is two-thirds the length of its body. The fin whale has a unique long shape and a grey or dark brown colour, save the area of its stomach which is a lighter colour. The average height of a male fin whale is 19 metres while a female is 20 metres.

A fin whale feeds on marine phytoplanktons, fish and small crustaceans and molluscs by filtering water with a net of minute strings that hang from its upper jaw. Such whales need a large amount of food in proportion to its large size, that is, hundreds of kilograms per day which makes it in need of constant movement to get enough food.

All types of whales in the Mediterranean Sea in general and in particular Egyptian waters are not a threat to humans and there are no records of any attacks on people.

“I call on citizens who visit the Egyptian coasts to not behave in a hostile way towards the whales or do anything to disturb them should they spot any of them in the touristic areas,” Fahmi said, adding that if they spot such creatures, they should take pictures of them and send them to the Environmental Affairs Department with the date and place they were spotted to enrich the database of biological diversity in Egypt.

“The minister of environment visited the area which gave us a huge morale boost,” Al-Essawi said. “He asked that the search for the whale continue for another week even if there are no reports of it being seen.

“There are three scenarios: either the whale will be found dead like those that turned up on the shores in 1992, 1998, 2008, 2009 and 2010 or it will find its way to deep water again or it will decide to live in the area. We are ready for anyone,” says Al-Essawi, adding that it is normal that a whale is spotted near the shore. People living abroad mark these seasons to get an opportunity to take photos with whales.

“Whales do not eat human beings, only small fish among other minute marine creatures according to its type. People should not disturb a whale because it can swim fast and its tail may hit and injure a child, for example. People should not offer it food as this could harm its echo system,” Al-Essawi added, saying that even a shark should not be attacked. “It will not eat a human.”

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