Dolphin Census a First for Region

The first multi-day census of dolphins ever conducted in the Eastern Mediterranean basin was undertaken toward the end of October by IMMRAC, the Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center, a division of the University’s Recanati Center for Maritime Studies.
The count was made from aboard a Greenpeace vessel, M.V. Arctic Sunrise, a former icebreaker, that averaged some 80 nautical miles a day from October 22-24 on a zig-zag course that ran up to 7-8 miles off Israel’s Mediterranean coast from Akko (Acre) in the north to below Ashkelon in the south. In all, the vessel had four contacts with dolphins over this period; three of the encounters were with one dolphin each and one contact was with a threesome of two adults and a “child.” In addition, the census-takers had reports from fishermen in the area and from the Israeli Navy during the three-day period of 14 other dolphins.

Heading the IMMRAC census was this unusual Center’s founder, Oz Goffman (see Focus, Winter 94/95), a graduate student in the Department of Maritime Cvilizations. IMMRAC itself is physically based south of Haifa at the Mevo’ot Yam Nautical School in the fishing village of Mikhmoret, where it maintains both a pen for treating sick dolphins and laboratories for studying these marine mammals.
Goffman concedes that there may have been only 15, not 20, individual dolphins sighted during the census, since not all the dolphins counted were photographed by those reporting to his “command” vessel. He still has to analyze more carefully both the still photographs and the videos that were taken of the sightings.

On the other hand, from the reports of fishermen, who usually troll about 3.5 nautical miles off shore, Goffman believes there are many more dolphins in the area, “dozens if not hundreds more.
Dolphins, he offered in explanation of their scientific importance, can tell us, among others, about the condition of the sea. “If the condition of the dolphins is bad, then that of the sea is bad, too.” As an example, he pointed to the chemical substance DDE that has been found in sick dolphins treated by his Center. DDE is a by-product of DDT when the latter substance is transferred through a mother’s milk to its calf. In addition to human pollution, he added, dolphins in this region also suffer from a lack of food, since the prevailing currents take most of this sea mammal’s diet to southern Mediterranean waters.

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