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Delphis’ remarkable journey through 2023

We had so many exciting events in the past year, including hundreds of marine mammal sightings (and one special monk seal), an educational program that entered Israeli schools, fascinating new research and many new volunteers. Here is a short review of Delphis achievements in 2023

We had so many exciting events in the past year, with hundreds of marine mammal sightings, notably Yulia, a special monk seal enshrined in the public's hearts. In addition, an educational program entered Israeli schools, we conducted fascinating new research and many new volunteers joined us. Here is a short review of the Delphis association’s achievements in 2023.

Observations of Marine Mammals in Israel

In the past year, 259 reports of marine mammal sightings were received from the public. Of these observations, 229 were made in the Mediterranean Sea, and 30 were reported in the Red Sea. In those observations, familiar species were seen on our shores, including the common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), the Common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea), Pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata), Gray grampus (Grampus griseus) and even a Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus).

Approximately 70 of the common dolphin species were observed from all these marine surveys conducted on 2023. The purpose of the surveys, which have been held in Israel since the early 1990s, is to deepen and expand our knowledge about the marine mammal populations in the region, thus promoting their conservation. A total of 18 dolphins known to Delphis were observed in the past year, as well as six new calves. According to researcher Kim Kobo of the Morris Kahn Marine Research Station (University of Haifa), the dolphin named 'Suki' was observed with her fifth calf this year! The dolphin 'Hawks' was also seen with her new calf at least twice.

But with all due respect to the exciting dolphin and whale sightings, the conversation in 2023 was dominated by Yulia! This Mediterranean monk seal emerged on the coast of Jaffa in May 2023 and stayed with us, completing a “tour" of about two and a half weeks on the shores of Israel, during which more than 50 different reports were received about her from the general public. The public response was overwhelming. It looks like everyone was highly engaged in her story, as well as military personnel and officials up and down the coastline. During October and November 2023, Delphis received three additional reports (with no photographic evidence) of seals observed in Rosh Hanikra, Herzeliya, and Ashdod.

Yulia managed to attract a group of fans at a level of stardom experienced by few and did what the total of 99 sightings of seals on the shores of Israel had not accomplished before her - she contributed significantly to the promotion of our “Bringing the monk seals back to Israel” project, which we announced just two months before she arrived! 

Shortly before the end of Yulia's visit to Israel, we launched a crowdfunding campaign in Delphis to obtain the necessary funding for restoring the caves at Rosh Hanikra, which were previously used by the seals in Israel but had collapsed over the years. The project included the construction of an artificial cave, the first of its kind in the world. The success of her visit and ensuing campaign gave us the vital boost we needed for this project. Unfortunately, before the real work began, the current war broke out, putting these plans on hold.

Dr. Mia Elasar of Delphis, who leads this project, said: "Despite the difficult days and the transformation of the proposed area into a closed military area, we have returned to working at full speed to obtain all the necessary approvals so that we can start the reconstruction operations immediately after the end of the war. I hope this will happen in the coming summer to fall."

Beyond these exciting updates, we also experienced sorrow. Over the year, 12 dead dolphins and whales washed up on the shores of Israel. According to Dr. Mia Elasar of Delphis, "Four of the dolphins were found lifeless, with signs of being caught in fishing equipment - a relatively high number compared to previous years".

גופת לווייתן ממין ראשתן בחוף השרון בישראל

Yulia on Israeli shore, may 2023. photo: Maor siboni

Marine mammal research - in Israel and around the world

In 2023, Delphis researchers assisted in co-authoring several publications alongside the Morris Kahn Marine Research Station (University of Haifa), and our organisation was highlighted in several articles through the media. The studies in Israel concluded multi-year data collection that focused on the local dolphin populations. Worldwide research has focused on various disturbance factors, such as sea noise pollution and climate change's effect. Another interesting study examined the abilities of dolphins to sense electromagnetic fields.

photo: Dr. Aviad Scheinin

Studies in Israel

A study summarizing 20 years of research on coastal dolphin populations in Israel

Based on dolphin surveys, the study's findings testified to two long-term dolphin populations of two species: the common dolphin and the bottlenose dolphin on Israel's coasts. The dolphins maintain a permanent and stable population along the entire Israeli coast. In contrast, the common dolphin is present in relatively shallow waters, mainly between Ashdod and Ashkelon.

The research was carried out under the leadership of Ori Galili as part of her master's thesis in the Department of Marine Biology and at the Morris Kahn Marine Research Station in the Charney School of Marine Sciences, University of Haifa.

Dolphin presence study using long-term passive acoustic monitoring

An array of passive acoustic instruments has been placed along the coast to monitor the presence of dolphins over the long term. This array provides a complementary picture to the surveys we conduct during daylight hours and in good weather. The research findings indicate that dolphins are a permanent and continuous presence at the sampling points.

This research was carried out under the leadership of Yotam Zuriel as part of his doctoral thesis in the Department of Marine Biology and at the Morris Kahn Marine Research Station in the Charney School of Marine Sciences, University of Haifa.

Studies from around the world

Underwater noise impairs the ability of dolphins to communicate with each other

The study reveals that the dolphins change their behavior to compensate for the increase in noise in their environment. The marine mammals turned their bodies towards each other and paid more attention to each other's position. Sometimes, they almost doubled the duration of their calls and increased the volume of their whistles, and the success rate of dolphins in coordinating tasks dropped significantly

More than a hundred dolphins have died in the Amazon due to climate change

The researchers speculate that the leading cause of death for the dolphins was heat stroke as a result of the hot water they were trapped in. The high water temperature resulted from extreme drought, the drop in water levels in the Amazon, and increased air temperatures. The measured water temperatures reached 39 degrees C, while the body temperature of dolphins was 37 degrees C on average. Another hypothesis (not confirmed) was that the extreme heat caused a bloom of toxic algae, a phenomenon documented in various parts of the world.

Dolphins sense electric fields through dimples in their snouts

This study showed that dolphins sense electromagnetic fields similarly to sharks. This ability helps them to hunt: the dolphins recognize the static electricity fluctuations created in the water due to the movement of the fish's gills, making it easier for them to catch them. In addition, the study showed that the degree of sensitivity to electric fields found in dolphins may allow them to sense the Earth's magnetic field through magnetic induction. Such an ability could help dolphins navigate around the ocean.

Visitors at the Delphis' Dolphin and Sea center in Ashdod

Education and outreach activities

The field of education forms the backbone of the Delphis association, and we believe promoting education in Israel to preserve the environment is core to our philosophy. Yulia's visit in May 2023 only furthered this vision. It showed us how powerful education and information activities are to affect the citizens' desire to protect marine mammals positively. The Delphis team, led by the director of the education field at the association, Raphaela Babish, has developed a wide variety of educational programs for different ages - from preschool to upper division ages - including the flagship educational program within the Yulia project, to return the seals to Israel - this will be included in the education system for the first time this year!

The plan was written in collaboration with the Office of Education, the Secretariat Pedagogical, Dept. Sciences, and is geared towards students.

An activity with the Dolphin and Sea center team, in Ashdod

Among other things, the program includes an invitation to visit the Dolphin and Sea Center, the educational center of the Delphis association, located in Ashdod. During the past year, we hosted more than 2,000 visitors at the center who participated in a wide variety of activities: tours and educational activities for kindergardens, high schoolers - as part of their studies for matriculation, tours for students, special education, tours for groups of disabled people, tours for retirees and for workers' committees.

Also, during the holidays and school vacations, the center held activities for the general public nationwide. The visitors enjoyed, among other things, two new activities that we launched during 2023 at the center: An original show, "Captain Jack and the Treasures of the Sea", intended for Kindergarten age children through third grade, as well as a unique tour following the travels of Yulia, the monk seal, in the Land of Israel.

In addition, the association's staff has guided dolphin surveys, informative lectures, and tours to get to know the urban nature and experiential activities, among other things, in collaboration with the Ashdod municipality's sustainability department and the "Lilach" institution, a treatment center in Ashdod for people with disabilities from the age of 21, as well as early childhood activities for children of families evacuated due to the war. 


Volunteering in Delphis

The year 2023 began with 109 volunteer members and ended with 319 members registered in Delphis. The new members got to know the association's activities this year and, among other things, joined the training of marine surveyors to help with Israeli dolphin research, which we held in February, the launch meeting of the Yulia project, which took place that month at the Museum of Nature in Tel Aviv, a guided tour by the association's researchers held at the cave site of The head of the sea lion designated for restoration for the seals, and for the traditional dolphin anointing, which took place in Ashdod for the fourth year as part of the municipal sports authority, and the Delphis association.

This year we also gave a favourable mention to several volunteers who stood out, especially in their work for marine mammals and the environment: Matan Benedikt (who also serves as the volunteer coordinator), Gil Lofo (the legendary and talented filmmaker, who, among other things produced the campaign video ("Home for Yulia"), Shraga Friedman (who works vigorously for the marine environment), Ester Rakah (whose presence is especially noticeable and vital, in almost all of our activities), Tamar Shaevi (who has been a member of the association since its founding, and contributed a lot from the southern end of the country), Anat Behar (who, beyond the search for Yulia, contributed to establishing contacts to receive donations from overseas), and Merav Cohen (who does everything to contribute to the success of the association, and at any given moment you will find her in the sea, looking for dolphins).

The spirit of volunteering and the ability to see beyond the 'here and now' puts wind in our sails and contributes to the association's growth. Despite the challenging year that has passed, we reflect on the good and joyous - and we strive to be even stronger in 2024!


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