Lebanon News

Tyre whales no cause for alarm, numbers still stable: experts

BEIRUT: After three sperm whales were recently spotted in the sea off Tyre, experts said the sighting was coincidental and in no way indicative of growing dangers or an increased whale population in Lebanon’s waters. “The fishermen were in deep areas when they saw the whales. This did not happen close to the shore,” Rayan Moukalled, administrative director of the environmental group Green Area, told The Daily Star. “They didn’t attack anyone or anything, just ate some fish in the nets.”

When asked about the frequency of these types of sightings, Moukalled dismissed claims of increased incidences. “It was more so a coincidence that they saw them; the whales are not coming in large numbers,” Moukalled said.

The sperm whales, members of Earth’s largest species of toothed whales, were originally spotted by fishermen in Tyre early Thursday morning. Despite an official statement released by Green Area reassuring residents that the whales posed no danger, a video of the rare sighting quickly circulated on the internet, raising questions and fears.

“The reason why people are afraid is because one news report said that this was bad news for Lebanese waters,” Michel Bariche, professor of marine biology at the American University of Beirut, told The Daily Star.

“But absolutely not – the whales pose no danger at all.”

The three whales were most likely females traveling with offspring, Bariche explained, as males rarely travel in groups.

“It’s normal to find them in the Mediterranean, but their numbers aren’t necessarily high. Passing through Lebanon is relatively rare, but it happens maybe once a year or once every two years,” Bariche said.

“It seems like we’ve been seeing more [in the past few years] just because fishermen are out there with their cellphones and posting to social media,” he said.

“It gives the impression that the number is increasing.”

If anything, rather than threatening humans, the whales’ swim through Lebanon’s waters poses a danger to the sea mammals themselves, Bariche said.

“The most dangerous thing is when they surface to breathe ... they might get hit by a yacht,” he said.

The statement released by Green Area noted that the population of sperm whales does not exceed 2,500 “in subtropical and tropical waters.” The dwindling species continues to be threatened in the Mediterranean, the statement added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 06, 2017, on page 4.

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