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Photographed by: IMMRAC Chairman Aviad Scheinin

The First Complete Whale Skeleton in Israel is Disinterred

September 30th, 2008

Early in the morning of September 14th, IMMRAC's first volunteers stood before the 1½ year old burial site of the young fin whale at the eastern reach of HaBonim Beach Nature Reserve. They were assisted by ranger Natan Elbaz from the Israel Nature and National Parks Authority (INNPA), who expertly supervised the excavator's work in safely digging up a trench parallel to the estimated western long-side of the whale's skeleton. Most of the work that followed was manual, using hoes, brushes and fingertips.

By late morning hours the mandibles were uncovered, followed by the caudal vertebrae. To our joy, most soft tissues decomposed during the time since the whale's carcass was buried, sandwiched in compost and cow manure and topped with sand. Unfortunately though, the process wasn't complete and some parts (e.g. the brain) were still present in some form, providing a source of horrible smell, some of which was stuck with us for a quite a while.

Other than the vestigial pelvic bones, which to our frustration we failed to locate (we foresightedly removed the pectoral fins prior to burial), we were able to recover the whole skeleton. Since it was the skeleton of a very young specimen, many bones were cracked or broken – which probably already happened during the hoist-up of the carcass from the water. Orchestrated by Eliana Ratner, who is doing her Master's thesis on cetacean skeleton preservation at the Department of Maritime Civilizations, University of Haifa, the bones were carefully disassembled, pedantically marked, and boxed. The packed and marked bones were taken to a warehouse that was hired specifically for the purpose from Nir Etzion. There the bones will be degreased, bleached and stored for a comparative collection and teaching purposes at the Institute for Maritime Studies, the University of Haifa, making it the first perfectly preserved fin whale's skeleton in Israel! The whole procedure was a prelude to the uncovering next spring of a 14 meter fin whale that beached last February, the skeleton of which will be assembled and displayed at the University.

Thanks to all the researchers, volunteers and bodies who helped during the long, hot, stinky and exhausting, yet enjoyable day:

  • INNPA's rangers: Natan Elbaz, Ruthi Yahel, Yossi Han, Amir and Fares.

  • IMMRAC volunteers: Ori Asher, Oz Goffman, Sarah-Lee Granit, Dani Kerem, Tsvika Lazar, Sharon Naim, Nimrod Or (and friends Reut and Oded), Aviad Scheinin and Ya'ara Shenkar (and friend, Adam Vodel).

  • Haifa University, which partially funded the dig up day and continuously supports marine mammal research.

Photographed by
Sara-Lee Granit

So far, no sign of the whale from Haifa Port

August 1st, 2008

 Until today we have received no further reports on the whale observed swimming in Haifa Port on July 26. We all hope that this event will have a better ending than the previous three of its kind.

The kids from the "Nature & Survival Activity" of the Tel Aviv University's Sports Club adopted a dolphin the second year in a row

July 30th, 2008

During the three week summer camp, the kids enjoyed a variety of activities concerning nature and survival. They were confronted with issues of environmental quality, focusing on the effects of plastic debris on animals and of course on the lives of dolphins along the Israeli coastline via exhibits and a presentation by Refa'ela from IMMRAC. The kids participated in educational tours at the National Center for Sea Turtle Salvage in Michmoret and in hands-on conservation activities. In the framework of nature hikes, the kids cleaned the beach of Sidna Ali from plastic refuse and in the University campus they recycled plastic bottles and increased the awareness to environmental issues. The Sports Club on its part donated the adoption fee to IMMRAC towards the conservation of our wild dolphins.

IMMRAC gave the donors a decorated adoption certificate and a large photo of the adopted dolphin.

 Way to go, kids!

Photographed by
Sara-Lee Granit

Baleen whale in Haifa Port

July 26th, 2008

 One day after the sad incident of the striped dolphin, a baleen whale was observed swimming inside Haifa Port (sperm whale was ruled out by the vertical blow and the presence of a distinct dorsal fin). IMMRAC's staff: Sara-Lee Granit and Dr. Oz Goffman, later joined by Dani Kerem, were on site following the whale until dark. Species identification was not final, the options being an adult minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) or a young fin whale (Balaenoptera  physalus).

 Dr. Oz Goffman and the dolphin

 Dr. Alon Levy with the
dolphin on boat

Photographed by Sara-Lee Granit


A sad ending to a young striped dolphin in Giv'at Olga beach

July 25th, 2008 

This morning, around 09:00, Mira  from the Nature & Parks authority while conducting a daily search for sea turtle nesting noticed a small dolphin swimming in the shallows and alerted IMMRAC's salvage network. By the time that the crew arrived, the dolphin beached itself but was refloated by a well-meaning beach-lier.  The salvage crew searched the sea for over an hour with the aid of a boat courtesy of the local anchorage, until they located the exhausted dolphin swimming on its side in the breakers. Dr. Oz Goffman sprang to the water, swam to the dolphin and keeping its blow-hole above water closed on the boat and hoisted the dolphin into it, where resuscitation attempts were initiated. Soon later, IMMRAC's boat with a second crew joined the scene, but after 20 minutes of attending by Dr. Alon Levy the veterinarian, all efforts failed and its death was confirmed.

The dolphin was transported to the salvage center in Michmoret for autopsy. It was an emaciated young, 202 cm long, male striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba), most probably the same individual photographed 500 m off Michmoret some 10 days ago. It is a deep-water species, never sighted during IMMRAC's coastal surveys. The autopsy revealed no obvious cause of death. The stomach was empty but for a few small squid beaks in the 3rd chamber. Blood & tissue samples were send for virological and pathological assays.

Many thanks to Giv'at Olga's life-guards & fishermen, to the Nature & Parks Authority, Mevo'ot Yam Naval Academy and all the volunteers taking part in this sad event.


Photographed by Dr. Gil'ad Yamin

Dolphins' Carcasses at Neurim Beach

June 4th, 2008

On the morning of June 3rd, a coast patrol engaged in spotting turtle nests reported a dead dolphin north of Netanya, at Ne'urim beach. Vet Dr. Gil'ad Yamin and IMMRAC Chairman Aviad Scheinin arrived to investigate the carcass. As can be seen from the photo taken by Gil'ad, a sizable portion of the dolphin's body was bitten off by sharks and the remains were in advanced state of decay. It was a 210 cm long common bottlenose dolphin of undeterminable sex. Teeth for aging, muscle and liver samples for genetics and contaminants, pectoral fin and head for morphometry were obtained. During the sampling, bystanders reported to Aviad and Gil'ad about another beached dolphin, a few kilometers to the north.

Gil'ad had to leave and Aviad traveled to sample the second carcass, which was under Hadassah Neurim Youth Aliyah Village, one kilometer south of Beit-Yanay. This carcass, also a bottlenose dolphin, was in better shape, but the small intestine started to protrude out of the abdomen. Aviad took out teeth, sampled skin, blubber, muscle, liver & spleen and removed the stomach, pectoral fin and head. Remains of digested fish were found in the pharynx, suggesting that digested food was vomited, possibly during entanglement a trawler's net. It is fair to assume that the carcasses belong to the two dolphins reported to be accidentally caught by the trawler Bilu – one on the week preceding the finding, and one on the week before that, west of Poleg.

Photographed by Sarah-Lee Granit

Dolphin's Carcass at Sironit Beach, Netanya  – May 4th, 2008

A report about a wounded stranded dolphin at Sironit Beach was received in the afternoon. IMMRAC volunteers Sarah-Lee and Oz arrived at the spot, and found a decaying carcass of a 1.78 meter long, rough-toothed dolphin calf. Its genital area was damaged, so its gender could not be determined on site. IMMRAC volunteers Eliana, Yaniv and Dani, who arrived at the scene later, transferred the dolphin's carcass to Haifa University for dissection, sampling & skeleton preservation. The skeleton will be added to IMMRAC's emerging impressive skeleton collection.

Rough-toothed dolphin seems to be a regular spring time visitor in our region, when it seems to migrate through the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. On March of 2005, tens of rough-toothed dolphins paid a visit to the Haifa Port, a phenomenon that attracted a lot of media attention.

Thanks to policeman Dudu, who reported the dolphin to the staff of the Sea Turtle Center, who reported it to IMMRAC!

Daphna Feingold gives a talk - photographed by Aviad Scheinin

Netherlands Conference Summary

March 18th, 2008

We had two (or actually three…) IMMRAC participants who physically attended the European Cetacean Society Conference, which was held in Egmond aan Zee, the Netherlands, on March10-12. IMMRAC volunteer Daphna Feingold and IMMRAC chairman Aviad Scheinin, along with Wise Mobility's representative Yaron Chaitovich.

Daphna gave two lectures – the first in the workshop that preceded the conference. Daphna also got the honor of giving the conference's last talk. The lectures were good and got a lot of attention.

In addition we presented three posters:

  1. Dr. Oz Goffman and Sarah-Lee Granit presented a poster about their Philippines' sightings.
  2. Nir Hadar presented his Master's thesis about cetacean observations in the Mediterranean Sea along the Israeli coast.
  3. Aviad Scheinin and Yaron Chaitovich presented IMMRAC's new data collection system. The system gained a lot of interest, and we were surprised to learn that in all the renown dolphin research institutes (like Florida's Sarasota, Australia's Shark Bay, and Canada's British Columbia) with relatively bigger research budgets, are still using traditional data collections means – papers and pencils, so we probably use the most advanced system, as we switched to the electronic platform on January 2007. We believe that with this technology we can bring a dolphin research revolution in two vectors: the way data is collected at sea, and a method for researchers from different countries to work with a similar system, which will make cooperation more efficient and ease cross-countries' researches.

Next year's conference will take place in Istanbul, Turkey.


Photographed by Aviad Shceinin

Fin Whale at Ashkelon

February 3rd, 2008

At the anchorage of Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC), a 14 m long live fin whale was observed in a bad physical condition, with half of its left fluke severed, at around 07:30 in the morning. Aviad, Oz and Nir were called upon the scene. The whale which practically beached itself in very shallow water was manually pushed back and rotated to face the open sea. It then swam towards the dock and by the time Dani, Eliana and Alon, the vet, arrived it had already succumbed (at around 10:50). It was hoisted with some difficulty onto a truck and moved to a close-by intended burial place.

On the morrow, at 9:30 am, 5 veterinarians: Alon Levy, Ori Brener (pathology expert), Dani Morik (whale parasites expert), Gil'ad Yamin and Shany Scheinin orchestrated the autopsy, assisted by Dani, Eliana, Omri and his daughter, Tali and Aviad.

The 14 ton whale had 6-7 cm thick blubber, through which we had to cut – quite a challenging task. After strenuous dissection, Dani ascertained that it was a male – congratulation to Nir for his correct gender identification. All three fin whales calves that stranded during the last four years were males – an interesting finding (although Dani will justifiably claim that it is too small a statistical sample). At 12:30 the autopsy was concluded with no obvious findings pointing to the cause of death. The stomach and the beginning of the small intestine were empty, although the large intestine was full of feces that seemed normal, a sample of which was taken for parasites test.

Part of the tissue samples were sent to the Weizmann Institute of Science for pathology, bacteriology and virology and part were sent along with the flippers to Haifa. At 13:30, EAPC employees started to bury the whale. The giant backhoe loader remarkably gently created a sand pit around the whale, and another tractor poured in two truckloads of cow dung, prepared on site a day before, in order to hasten soft tissue digestion and lipid extraction towards preserving the skeleton.

The bones are scheduled to be disinterred in the autumn, but before that we have two other whales buried at Habonim beach, which we are going to pull out in the coming spring.

The story was published on a few newspapers. Here is an article on Ha'aretz., which also published it on TV.

Many thanks to all the participants on those two hectic days:

  • Ashkelon marine policemen

  • Kodo and Ronen Alkalai from the Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection, who helped with boats, dives and gave a hand with any issue.

  • EAPC employees under the supervision of a dear man – EAPC anchorage manager Itsik Levy.

  • IMMRAC volunteers: Aviad, Oz, Aharon, Nir, Dani, Eliana and Ya'ara.

  • Dear man and a friend, Shlomi Elcharar, who contributed NIS 3,500 for 600 cubic meter of cow dung, which arrived especially for us to EAPC. Shlomi also transferred to the lab in Haifa, in his private pickup truck, the flippers and other whale's samples as well as the dolphin skull that was stored at the Beit Dagan freezer.


Photographed by Yair

Successful Dolphin Survey – January 23rd, 2008

Despite a gray and rainy morning, we went out on a planned survey. Luckily, weather got clearer and even the morning swells slowly abated. After sailing for an hour, we saw a couple of trawlers within a cloud in the horizon. That was our only chance to sight dolphins in those conditions. Happily, we spotted an adult dolphin (maybe two) close to the first trawler – Yas'ur, and a female dolphin and its calf (and possibly another adult) behind the second trawler – Iris. The dolphins were busily foraging from the trawler's net and did not heed us.

Thanks to Sea-Gal Yacht Club that contributed the yacht for the research sail, and to the crew: Yaron, Chaim, Yair, David, Yossi, Aviad, and Shachar (ornithologist).

Fruitful Dolphin Survey off Herzliya Beach - January 14th, 2008

For the second time in a row and at the same spot off the Marina entrance, a pod of 7 to 10 dolphins was spotted.

Thanks to Adi, Dorit, Nufar, Matan, Yonah, Meirav and Mandy that joined Mor and Eli onboard the Yaheli for a regular Saturday sail and, together with us, got much more than that. And of course thanks to the Ramati family for their video clip.

To watch their recorded video clip, please double click the "play" triangle on the window on the left hand side.