Extent of whale and dolphin watching
In recent years the Sultanate of Oman has successfully capitalized its impressive natural landscapes and resources to attract tourism from all over the world. Efforts have been made to preserve the country’s culture and heritage whilst increasing tourism infrastructure to cater for a growing number of visitors each year. Similar to other tourism trends in the country, the whale watching industry in Oman started with a single operator in 1998 and rapidly developed to a peak of 16 operators working in the country’s capital, Muscat, in 2014. As of January 2018, the number of operators in Muscat had dropped to approximately 11 operators, but full-time or ad hoc operators have started to offer tours in Musandam, Ras al Hadd, Masirah Island and Dhofar. Most of these operations target coastal dolphins, but one emerging operator is focusing on the unique non-migratory population of humpback whales in the Arabian Sea.
Dolphin watching tours from Muscat typically last for 2 hours, or longer if they are combined with snorkelling or other types of coastal sight-seeing. Vessels used for tours around the country range in size from small, open-decked boats with outboard engines to larger traditional wooden dhows.
Target species, peak times of year and locations:
In the Muscat area, spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) are targeted year-round. These are often found in mixed groups with common dolphins (Delphinus delphis tropicalis) that form a secondary target in Muscat and Ras al Hadd. Several other species are encountered opportunistically, including common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus), Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera brydei), false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens), sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and, more rarely, killer whales (Orcinus orca), blue whales (B. musculus) and Arabian Sea humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae).
Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) are year-round targets in shallow water inlets of the Musandam peninsula in northern Oman and either or both species are a seasonal (September to May) target along the shores of mainland Dhofar in the south of the country, especially Ras Nuss, Taqa, Salalah and Mughsayl. Arabian Sea humpback whales are opportunistically encountered almost exclusively in Dhofar, and are a target of a small-scale marine tourism business in the Hallaniyat Islands.