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Surprise on the Beach

Michal Ish-Shalom

What beach-loving person wouldn't want to come face-to-face with a live dolphin, those friendly marine creatures with the built-in smiles? When a spectacular cluster of fifteen dolphins was sighted of the coast of Bat Yam recently, a few lucky Israelis — including a team of dolphin advocates — saw their dream come true. What makes dolphins, considered among the most playful and intelligent of animals, so popular in human culture?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


You're getting in your last rays of
summer, as the bright sun reflects off the clean white sand and frothy
sparkling waves. You’re enjoying the salty scent of the Mediterranean,
the heavenly breeze, and the fresh spray of ocean water on your face. Then,
suddenly, you spot a visitor in the distance. It’s a dolphin, and it’s swimming
toward you!

It's definitely more than you
bargained for when you hopped the bus to the beach, and it's also a dream come
true for researchers from the Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance
Center (IMMRAC), an Israeli
volunteer-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the study
and conservation of the cetacean
population inhabiting Israeli waters. Recently they encountered a pod (school)
of fifteen common dolphins — dolphins from the genus Delphinus — some four
miles off the coast ofBat Yam.

This wasn’t the first time that
IMMRAC volunteers have come upon a group of dolphins, but previous encounters
mostly took place during diving expeditions where researchers tailed dolphins who
were prowling for food. This time, however, the researchers, and the
sunbathers, were in for a pleasant surprise. The dolphins put on a spectacular
two-hour performance during which they entertained the IMMRAC volunteers with
graceful leaps and friendly play, as if inviting their human friends to join
them in an incredible maritime display. The mischievous dolphins also attracted
the attention of two newborn calves (baby dolphins), which joined the
fun-loving group.

Dr. Aviad Scheinin, chairman of
IMMRAC, had his camera poised in the air, clicking away. This was the first
time such a performance had been seen in Israeli waters.

“The dolphins exhibited remarkably
vibrant, friendly behavior. At times, they leaped close enough to spray us with
water,” Dr. Scheinin still enthuses. “They were energetic fellows that enjoyed
playing in the water, jumping and leaping right next to our yacht.”

Then, two newborn dolphins joined
the group and provided the researchers with a unique opportunity to study how
mother dolphins teach their infants to move in the water. The calves never left
their mothers’ sides; they were still novices in the water acrobatics
demonstrated so skillfully by the older members of the pod.

“Dolphins rise to the surface of
the water to breathe deeply,” explains Scheinin. “But they do this by raising
only the uppermost tips of their heads to expose their blowholes. The calves,
on the other hand, lifted their entire faces above the surface, which treated
them to a fierce pounding on the chin when they dived back into the water.”

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