The Treasures of the Red Sea (3): Distinctive Treasures


The great diversity of the Red Sea is in no way limited to its wide variety of colorful fish (Read Part II: Endemic Treasures); plenty of other distinctive sea creatures can be found within its waters:

Dolphins and Whales

A common sight all over the Red Sea and a major attraction for tourists, despite their popularity, dolphins and whales are still poorly studied. Eight species are considered regular: the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), the Indo‑pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus), the spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris), the Pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata), the long-beaked common dolphin (Dephinus capensis), Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus), the humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis), and Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni). There are various sites in the southern Red Sea where dolphins congregate or live; Sataya reef in Marsa Alam is a popular site known as a home for spinner dolphins.


There are about thirty shark species roaming the Red Sea, ranging from the gigantic whale shark, Rhincodon typus, with a maximum length of more than 12 m, to the comparatively miniature big-eye hound-shark, Iago omanensis, with its maximum length of about 60 cm. Many of these species exist entirely hidden from human eyes, either because of their preference for the open ocean or deep-water habitats, or their reluctance to approach humans and their activities.

Commonly encountered Red Sea shark species include: the grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), the silky shark (C. falciformis), the scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini), the pelagic thresher (Alopias pelagicus), the oceanic white-tip shark (C. longimanus), the white-tip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus).

Credits: White Tip Reef Shark at Shaab Marsa Alam, Red Sea, Egypt/Derek Keats/


The dugong is what inspired the famous mermaid legend; in fact, it is still called “Aroset Elbahr”, the Arabic word for “mermaid”. Despite lacking a trunk and living in a marine environment, dugongs are actually distant relatives of the elephant. They are coastal marine mammals that rarely exceed 3 m length and may weigh up to 400 kg. Dugongs have flattened faces with bristles and fluked horizontal tales like a dolphin or a whale.

The dugongs of the southern Red Sea represent one of the key marine highlights for tourism. A perfect example is the dugong of Marsa Abu Dabbab, which has gained celebrity status among the diving and water-sport community world-wide. It is estimated that there is less than a dozen dugongs living along the entire stretch of coastline from Quseir to the Egyptian/Sudanese border. Dugong species are currently classified as vulnerable to extinction; in recent years many countries have enacted laws for their protection.


There are seven species of sea turtles in the world; five of those have been reported in the Egyptian Red Sea: the green and the hawksbill turtles that nest and feed on the coast, the leatherback turtle, and the smallest of the sea trurtle species, the olive-ridley turtle that is only rarely seen. A fifth species, the loggerhead turtle known for its big head, can usually be spotted in the Gulf of Aden but rarely reaches the Egyptian Red Sea.

At present, the International Union for Nature Conservation lists them as critically endangered (leatherback and hawksbill turtles), endangered (green and loggerhead turtles) and vulnerable (olive-ridley turtle). Sea turtles play an essential role in maintaining the seagrass beds that are a host to many sea creatures and in keeping the Red Sea healthy and full of life.


Cover Image: Dolphins (Red Sea) at Shaab Marsa Alam/Alfonso González/Flickr

This article was first published in print in the PSC Newslertter, Summer 2012 issue.

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