Thailand’s marine experts discover Omura’s whales off Phuket coast

Picture courtesy of DMCR

A team of marine experts from Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) embarked on a mission off the coast of Phuket in search of the elusive Omura’s whale. Despite their extensive efforts, the team’s quest to locate the rare albino Omura’s whale was unsuccessful. Nonetheless, their expedition was far from fruitless, as they discovered several rare marine creatures residing in the local waters.

The order for this expedition was issued by Police General Patcharawat Wongsuwan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, following several reported sightings of Omura’s whales in the area. The team, led by DMCR Director-General Dr Pinsak Suraswadi and marine and coastal ecosystems specialist Dr Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, comprised officials from various marine research centres.

To gather comprehensive data on the whales, the team employed three distinct survey methods. These included the use of their boat and a drone to search. In addition, the marine experts also interacted with local fishing boats, inquiring about any potential sightings of the whales.

The team’s survey spanned a vast area from the lower Phang Nga Bay to the upper region of the Racha Yai Islands, covering approximately 200 square kilometres. The drone was primarily utilised to survey the area south of Laem Promthep to the northern part of Racha Yai Island to Koh Hei, a few kilometres southeast of Phuket, reported The Phuket News.

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The three-day operation yielded valuable findings. The team reported the discovery of four to six Omura’s whales in the lower Phang Nga Bay area, with locations ranging between Koh Maithon, Phi Phi Island and the Racha Islands. Two additional sightings were reported by tourist boats.

The initial sighting took place on the west side of Phi Phi Island, where a whale was spotted breathing and gliding swiftly along the current. A second sighting involved a 9-metre-long Omura’s whale on the eastern side of Koh Mai Thon.

The officials followed the creature for half an hour, observing its usual swimming and feeding behaviour. In the third sighting, a quartet of Omura’s whales was discovered near Koh Hei, where they were seen engaging in various activities near boats.

Despite the successful sightings, the team faced challenges, including strong winds and frequent waves, which hampered their operations in the morning. However, the afternoon proved to be more favourable, with smoother sea conditions and a slight breeze. The mission concluded at 4pm, shifting its focus to assisting a tourist boat sinking off Koh Hei.

Despite the absence of the albino Omura’s whale, the discovery of four Omura’s whales was celebrated as good news by Associate Professor Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biologist and lecturer at Kasetsart University. He noted that it was the largest pod ever spotted in Thailand, thus marking a significant milestone in the nation’s marine biology research.

Environment NewsPhuket News

Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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