1996 IMMRAC Marine Mammal Research

O. Goffman presemts a gift to Prince Ranier, at the CIESM meeting in Monacco

The past year has proven to be very important for the Israeli Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center (IMMRAC), bringing both national and international recognition. 1997 will see the organization situated in its own premises - a long awaited event.

The building of the center for the rescue and rehabilitation of dolphins, was physically begun at the Nautical School, Mevo'ot Yam, Mikhmoret, in March. This included the installation of a rehabilitation pool, donated by kibbutz Tel Yitzhak. A floating rehabilitation enclosure will be built within the boundaries of the anchorage at Mikhmoret. This will be used to hold sick animals until they are well enough to be released back into the sea. Building of the enclosure is being funded by a budget provided for IMMRAC by the Ministry for the Environment, and in cooperation with the Department of Zoology at the University of Tel Aviv.

We have put together a team of volunteers whose job will be to administer first-aid to live beached dolphins brought to the rehabilitation center. The dolphin stranding alert network, coordinated by Ron Yaffe, is running and working well. IMMRAC volunteers are immediately alerted of stranded dolphins all year round, and collect data on the dolphins soon after they are found. The Israeli government and public are becoming increasingly aware of the plight of stranded marine mammals.

Autopsies of dolphins are carried out at the Kimron Veterinary Institute and the Beit Dagan Veterinary Hospital under the supervision of Itamar Tsur and Alon Levi. Parasite samples are sent to Tony Raga at the Department of Animal Biology at the University of Valencia, Spain, for comparative analysis. Dr. Raga also performs a genetic analysis of the tissue. These tests, performed on tissue samples taken from striped dolphin populations in our area, show a genetic pattern similar to that of striped dolphin populations native to other areas of the Mediterranean. This research is in its infancy and will be continued in the future.

Mira Roditi, a student of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa, is coordinating a study of the causes of death of dolphins along Israeli shores. Tissue samples are tested for pesticides and heavy metals at the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research (Sea of Galilee and Haifa laboratories) in collaboration with Nurit Kress and Hava Hornung.

The main problem currently facing the Center is financial. Despite this, IMMRAC is the first and only organization in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin to have established an active body whose function is to protect and study the marine mammals of the region.

In December, 1995, a meeting of researchers was held in Monaco under the auspices of Prince Rainier to discuss scientific collaboration throughout the entire Mediterranean Basin. Fifteen delegates from various Mediterranean countries participated in the meeting, which was conducted under the banner of the International Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Mediterranean Sea (CISEM). Oz Goffman, of IMMRAC, was chosen to represent Israel, following the publication of his dolphin surveys, which span the past three and a half years. This academic work group meets annually in order to gather data on the distribution of the cetacean populations in the Mediterranean Sea. At the end of 1995, CISEM published the first atlas showing cetacean distribution patterns in the Mediterranean Sea. The current aim is to update and improve this atlas, through the collection of data from little studied areas, particularly Morocco, Turkey and Israel. At this point in time, collaborative projects are being planned with institutions in Italy (Tethys Research Institute), Spain, Greece and Turkey.

Plans for the near future:

Eastern Mediterranean Project: Surveys of dolphin populations off the shores of Israel and throughout the eastern Mediterranean will be carried out collaboratively by the University of Haifa, the Department of Fisheries, the Ministry for the Environment, and the Nautical School, Mevoíot Yam. Oz Goffman, and Dan Kerem of the Israeli Naval Medical Institute, will supervise the project with the assistance of Omri Ben Eliyahu, who will skipper the boats. Efforts aimed at underwater documentation of dolphin-trawler interaction in the hope of reducing entanglement, are planned.

Red Sea Project: This project will be conducted by IMMRAC together with the Tethys Institute in Italy. The Institute, under the leadership of Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, has vast experience in surveying cetacean pods in the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas. We will record cetacean populations in the Red Sea using both audio and visual media. The study was initiated by undersea photographers, Aaron and Zina David of Eilat, who for the past three years have been gathering data from Israeli and Egyptian fishermen and diving clubs. We are hopeful that the Arab nations surrounding the Red Sea - Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia - will ultimately become involved in the project.

Dugong Project: The UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of the Marine Mammal Action Plan, has awarded IMMRAC researchers Oz Goffman, Kari Lavalli and Dan Kerem, a grant to initiate the first dugong survey in the Gulfs of Eilat and Suez with the cooperation of the Egyptian officials at the Ras Mohammed Nature Reserve.

Other Activities:

In February a marine mammal conference was held at the Nautical School, Mevo'ot Yam, Mikhmoret. The following topics were covered: a survey of dolphin populations along the Israeli coast; dolphin physiology; findings from autopsies of dolphins stranded on Israeli shores; and behavior of dolphins, whales and sea lions.

Also in February, a poster entitled: Heavy Metal Tissue Content of Dolphins off the Mediterranean Coast of Israel, was presented by M. Roditi, H. Hornung, O. Goffman, D. Kerem, N. Kress, and E. Spanier at the conference of the European Cetacean Society, held in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dan Kerem, Oren Sonin, of the fisheries branch of the Department of Agriculture and Oz Goffman, presented a poster on the relationship between dolphins and Israeli trawlers, at the biannual conference of the Marine Mammal Society in Orlando, Florida.

Selected results of the behavioral study of a lone dolphin residing off Nueba in the Red Sea, were presented at the International Marine Animal Trainers Association (IMMATA) conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. The dolphin, who has been named Holly, abandoned her pod and has developed a relationship with the Bedouin residents of a fishing village in Nueba Mezene. Observations of Holly have been carried out over the past two years by Oz Goffman, under the supervision of Dan Kerem. A short video depicting the story of Holly, received a prestigious award at the film festival in Antibe, France. Currently an ethogram, using Holly, is being prepared on human/dolphin interactive behaviors as compared to dolphin/dolphin interactions in the open sea.

IMMRAC will soon have a site on the Internet which will include pictures, videos and updates on research and the activities of the Center. For further details regarding the IMMRAC home page, IMMRAC may be contacted via e-mail on: RHSS101@UVM.HAIFA.AC.IL

IMMRAC would like to thank the many professionals and volunteers who have contributed to the center. Without them these projects would not be possible.

Oz Goffman

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