Since June of 1993 till today, about 190 dead cetaceans beached and 5 live individuals stranded on the Israeli coastline, from Rosh-Hanikra, in the North to Rafi’ach, in the south. The rescue and assistance team was established in order to help stressed animals near or on the shore, as well as to attend to beached ones. So far, only 2 strandings led to resuscitative attempts, therefore most of the team’s work involved investigation of dead specimens. The latter included the taking of body measurements, obtaining tissue samples, and performing an autopsy – whenever possible.
The beached individuals were from 9 different species, listed below according to their prevalence:
1. Common bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
2. Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)
3. Rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis)
4. Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
5. Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus)
6. Sperm whale (Physter macrocephalus)
7. Short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
8. Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
9. False killer whale (Psedoarca crassidens)
Teeth were taken from most animals and sent to labs abroad for age determination. It has been found that the youngest was a newborn and the oldest, a bottlenose dolphin, was 39 years of age. In about a third of the cases, the cause of death was unintentional entanglement and drowning in fishing gear, either bottom trawl-nets (affecting bottlenose dolphin only) or gill nets (affecting also rough-toothed dolphin, striped dolphin, Risso’s dolphin and minke whale). Among the beached dolphins, the most common pathological finding was lung disease. In some cases, bacteria were cultured, part of which were virulent, and on a background of high concentrations of heavy metals, which compromise the animal’s immune system, may have contributed to their demise. Another obvious mortality cause are floating plastic bags, mistakenly swallowed and later, blocking the passage between stomach chambers thus causing death by starvation.
Of the nine stranding cases, the first 2, common bottlenose dolphins, occurred during the early days of IMMRAC, while the center still lacked the needed equipment to help stressed dolphins. The dolphins did not actually come ashore alive, but spent a long time in shallow water before beaching, a fact that qualifies them as strandings and should perhaps have merited intervention:
1. The female dolphin “Nakura” – August 1994
2. Dolphin on Acko Beach – April 1997
3. Risso’s dolphin – June 1999
4. Beaked whale at “Sydney-Ally” – July 2002
5. Risso’s dolphin at Herzliyya – 30/03/2005
Marine Mammal Stranding Response Protocol for the Layman
Stranded or about-to-be-stranded cetaceans are usually very sick. As a matter of fact, this action may be an instinctive last resort to prevent drowning. Such an animal will in all probability be injured or ill, dehydrated, exhausted and in great stress. Upon encountering a stranded dolphin or whale, you should first of all call one of the following IMMRAC members:
Oz Goffman, Head: 050-6241663
Aviad Scheinin, Chairman: 052-3571193
Nir Hadar, Head, Rescue Team, 050-8226280
Until the arrival of IMMRAC’s rescue team, several actions should be taken:
If the animal as in the water:
1. Reduce the number of swimmers near the animal to the bare minimum required to assist it, in order to decrease the stress level and prevent further damage.
2. Do not attempt to guide the animal away from shore, an action that will only exhaust it further.
3. Keep the animal in the water (especially if large, such that its weight on land will impede its breathing), with its head towards the sea.
4. Support it in order to keep the blowhole above water and allow him to breath freely.
If the animal is on beach:
1. If it is a large animal (more than 3 meters) and there are enough people available, carefully lift it and support it in the water as above.
2. Otherwise, shade it and keep the skin wet with seawater. The dolphin’s skin is very sensitive and burns easily. Using wet towels is recommended.
3. Keep the blowhole uncovered and dry.
4. Shelter from wind-blown sand
5. Keep away bystanders and reduce noise sources, while waiting for the arrival of IMMRAC’s rescue team.
What if the animal is dead?
Beached animals are a source to a wealth of information that diminishes by the hour, especially in warm weather. It is imperative that the body be inspected as fresh as possible, so the above-listed people should be promptly alerted also in the case of beached animals.