IMMRAC (Israel Marine Mammal Research & Assistance Center) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study and conservation of cetacean populations that inhabit the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat. IMMRAC’s headquarters are in the Mevo’ot Yam Naval School at Michmoret (about halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv) and its academic sponsorship is through the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies of the University of Haifa. Its main access to the sea is via a semi-inflatable, fiberglass-bottomed 6 meter Zodiac boat with a 75 horsepower engine, a donation from the “Born to Nature” project of "Tnuva" (Israel’s major dairy manufacturer) and the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel.
IMMRAC volunteers include scientists, students, veterinarians and members of the general public.
IMMRAC’s activities include:
- Updating the list of Mediterranean cetacean species that range into the inadequately-studied Eastern Basin.
- Conducting near-shore surveys with the goal of studying the habitat use, site fidelity, home-range extent, trends in population size and genetic profiles of coastal bottlenose dolphins, the most common local species.
- Manning a nationwide, 24 hour alert net which responds to real-time reports of distressed-at-sea, floating, beached and stranded dolphins, as well as a modest rehabilitation facility for sick/injured animals.
- Conducting post mortem examinations to determine age, feeding habits through stomach contents, possible cause of death, general state of health and level of tissue contaminants. Tissue samples are also sent to laboratories abroad for analyses unavailable locally at present.
- Pursuing a multi-year longitudinal study of dolphin-human relations expressed by a solitary sociable female bottlenose dolphin in the gulf of Aqaba/Eilat.
- Devising means of reducing by-catch, specifically of bottlenose dolphins, which have a close and costly association with the local trawl-boat fleet.
- Launching public awareness campaigns to draw attention to important ecological issues affecting dolphins in the Middle East, as well as the marine bio-diversity of our whole planet. This is done by means of media interviews, press releases, public lectures, information stands and activity centers at various “green” exhibitions, as well as by offering educational programs at all age levels, from kindergarten to university.
- Lobbying for legislation aimed at conservation of the marine environment at large, and specifically marine mammals.
- To the list of species whose range apparently extends to the Israeli coastline (bottlenose, striped, common, Risso’s and rough-toothed dolphins, and Cuvier’s beaked whale) we can now add the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (one live individual, most probably a Lessepsian migrant, sighted at several locations along the coast ), the minke whale (two calves were found on separate occasions, entangled in gill-nets off Acre and Haifa, respectively) and the false killer whale (one sighting of a 20-member pod and the beached remains of one adult, collected 30 km south of Haifa).
- Mercury contamination levels of striped and bottlenose dolphin tissues show values midway between Atlantic and Western Mediterranean representatives. Cadmium levels are relatively high, probably reflecting natural regional inflows (Sahara phosphate-rich sands).
- Aggressive acts of the wild solitary sociable female dolphin towards swimmers seem to increase during early calf-rearing periods.
IMMRAC holds regular meetings for veteran and new volunteers every last Friday of the month, at 14:00, in our center in Michmoret. At the meetings we present a summery of IMMRAC's activities during the previous month, and an update and information about coming activities. In addition, there are lectures by IMMRAC volunteers or by invited speakers and/or maintenance, acquaintance and hands-on practice with the rescue equipment.
IMMRAC is a young and under-funded center, but it is committed to the mission of filling a regional gap in a rapidly evolving bio-ecological field. It seeks to cooperate with similar regional centers, and was recently accredited the status of Partner in ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area). It is currently pursuing avenues of participation in joint projects with members of the ECU with longer experience in cetacean research, in the hope of increasing its sources and improving its chances of research funding.
IMMRAC - Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies Haifa University 31905 Mount Carmel, Haifa Israel