Coastal Shelf Waters of the South East Levantine Sea IMMA

Areas Size

3 813 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Common dolphin – Delphinus delphis
Criterion A; B (1); C (1, 2)

Common bottlenose dolphin – Tursiops truncatus
Criterion A; B (1); C (1, 2); D (1)

Marine Mammal Diversity 

Monachus monachus


The Mediterranean continental shelves of the South East Levantine Sea host resident populations of Vulnerable common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and Endangered common dolphins (Delphinus delphis). Sightings of both species span all seasons with calves and newborns observed regularly. Given the threatened state of the Mediterranean subpopulations of both species, the area contains viable habitats ensuring their continual survival. The local common bottlenose dolphins are genetically and morphometrically differentiated from other studied Mediterranean populations. The common dolphins are seemingly isolated from other known Mediterranean populations.

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion A – Species or Population Vulnerability

The Mediterranean subpopulation of common bottlenose dolphin is assessed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Since 1999 to date, a total of 650 half-day dedicated, mostly near-shore, surveys aboard small boats and private yachts were performed by IMMRAC, covering over 22,000 km. The common bottlenose dolphin, by far the most sighted species, is distributed throughout Israeli coastal waters but also sighted as far as 30 km offshore, over water depths of ~1,300m.

The Mediterranean subpopulation of common dolphin is assessed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. During a recent workshop on the conservation status of the Mediterranean short-beaked common dolphin, it became evident that ever since the last evaluation by the IUCN a declining trend in presence, abundance and habitat suitability of this species has occurred in several Mediterranean regions where long‐term studies are ongoing.

Criterion B: Distribution and Abundance

Sub-criterion B1: Small and Resident Populations

Long term ecological research on the population of common bottlenose dolphins along the Israeli coastline shows a substantial nucleus with year-round and inter-annual site fidelity and with uniform distribution in the proposed area. Photo-identification studies indicate, at least partially, an ‘open’ population, of which an average 8.8 (n = 176; 1996-2015) die and beach on the Israeli shore annually, with a relatively low standard deviation (2.6) over the last 2 decades, suggesting a small but stable-sized population.

Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities

Sub-criterion C1: Reproductive Areas

Long term ecological research on the population of common bottlenose dolphins along the Israeli coastline shows the overall probability of encountering young offspring in the sighted group to be 38%. Other research studies have observed calf and newborn common dolphins throughout the area and sighting records confirm calves are present year-round.

Sub-criterion C2: Feeding Areas

Common bottlenose dolphins are regularly observed diving behind bottom trawlers and occasionally caught on video pulling fish protruding from fishing gears. Entangled victims are almost always with full stomachs. Stomach content analysis suggests feeding on bottom trawl catch and bycatch, and sighting records confirm a significant interaction with bottom trawlers. The chances of encountering dolphins in the vicinity of trawlers being almost an order of magnitude greater than in the open sea. Trawler catch and bycatch is not the sole source, the overall similarity of biomass composition between pooled dolphin stomach contents and fisheries catch in the study area was expressed by a Pianka index of 0.49. These findings along with occasional observations of surface feeding suggest the area to be an active feeding ground.

Pelagic feeding events are regularly observed for common dolphins within the area. Sighting records collected by local research bodies confirm both surface feeding and interaction with bottom trawlers. Common Dolphins are regularly observed following bottom trawlers. Preliminary stomach content analysis suggests feeding on both catch and discards from the bottom trawl nets.

Criterion D: Special Attributes  

Sub-criterion D1: Distinctiveness

There is compelling morphometric and genetic evidence that common bottlenose dolphins within the area are representatives of a distinct, smaller-sized, population unit of wider Mediterranean bottlenose dolphin subpopulation, the spatial extent and boundaries of which are presently unknown.

Supporting Information

CBS. 2014. Report of the Mediterranean regional workshop to facilitate the description of ecologically or biologically significant marine areas. Malaga, 7-11 April, 2014. UNEP/CBD/EBSA/WS/2014/3/4.

Bearzi. G., Agazzi, S., Gonzalvo, J., Costa, M., Bonizzoni, S., Politi, E., Piroddi, C., Reeves, R.R. 2008. Overfishing and the disappearance of short-beaked common dolphins from western Greece. Endangered Species Research 5:1-12.

Bearzi. G., Reeves, R.R., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Politi, E., Cañadas, A., Frantzis, A., Mussi, B. 2003. Ecology, status and conservation of short-beaked common dolphins Delphinus delphis in the Mediterranean Sea. Mammal Review 33:224-252.

Bearzi, G. 2003. Delphinus delphis (Mediterranean subpopulation). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2003: e.T41762A10557372. Downloaded September 20, 2016.

Brand, D. 2013. The effect of Lessepsian migration on the diets of the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and the short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) along the Israeli coastline. M.a. thesis, University of Haifa, Israel. 92 pp. (in Hebrew, with summary in English).

Brand, D., Edelist, D., Goffman, O., Hadar, N., Kerem, D., Scheinin, A. 2016. Common dolphins, common in neritic waters off southern Israel, demonstrate uncommon dietary habits. Page 19 in: Pace, D.S., Mussi, B., Vella, A., Vella, J., Frey, S., Bearzi, G., Benamer, I., Benmessaoud, R., Gannier, A., Genov, T., Gimenez, J., Gonzalvo, J., Kerem, D., Larbi Doukara, K., Milani, C., Murphy, S., Natoli, A., Pierce, G.J. 2016. Report of the 1st International Workshop Conservation and Research Networking on Short-beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) in the Mediterranean Sea. Mediterranean Common Dolphin Working Group. Ischia Island, Italy, 13-15 April 2016. 44 pp.

Cañadas, A., Vazquez, J.A. 2016. Common dolphins in the Alboran Sea: facing a reduction in their suitable habitat due to an increase in sea surface temperature. Deep Sea Research II, 141: 306-318.

Edelist, D., Rilov, G., Golani, D., Carlton, J.T., Spanier, E. 2013. Restructuring the sea: profound shifts in the world’s most invaded marine ecosystem. Diversity and Distributions 19:69-77.

Garfunkel, Z., Almagor, G. 1985. Geology and structure of the continental margin off northern Israel and the adjacent part of the Levantine basin, Marine Geology 62:105-131.

Gaspari, S., Scheinin, A., Holcer, D., Fortuna, C., Natali, C., Genov. T., Moura, A.E. 2015. Drivers of population structure of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Evolutionary Biology 42:177-190.

Kent, R., Scheinin, A., Kerem, D. 2006. Preliminary results of the first dedicated multi-day cetacean survey over the Israeli Mediterranean continental shelf and adjacent waters. 3rd Annual Meeting of the Israeli Association for Aquatic Sciences. May 2006, Haifa, Israel.

Kerem, D., Hadar, N., Goffman, O., Scheinin, A., Kent, R., Boisseau, O., Schattner, U. 2012. Update on the cetacean fauna of the Mediterranean Levantine Basin. Open Mar. Biol. J 6, 6-27.

Malanotte-Rizzoli, P., Manca, B.B., D’alcala, M.R., Theocharis, A., Brenner, S., Budillon, G., Ozsoy, E. 1999. The eastern Mediterranean in the 80s and in the 90s: the big transition in the intermediate and deep circulation. Dynamics of Atmospheres & Oceans 29:365-395.

Piroddi, C., Bearzi, G., Gonzalvo, J., Christensen, V. 2011. From common to rare: the case of the Mediterranean common dolphin. Biological Conservation 144:2490-2498.

Roditi-Elasar, M., Miller, E., Scheinin, A.P., Zuriel, Y., Kerem, D. 2016. Common bottlenose dolphins in the Levantine deep sea (Akhziv Submarine Canyon). 30th Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society, Funchal, Madeira, March 2016.

Schattner, U., Lazar, M. 2016. Hierarchy of source-to-sink systems — Example from the Nile distribution across the eastern Mediterranean. Sedimentary Geology 343:119-131.

Scheinin, A.P. 2010. The population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), bottom trawl catch trends and the interaction between the two along the Mediterranean continental shelf of Israel. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Haifa, 172 pp.

Scheinin, A.P., Kerem, D., Lojen, S., Liberzon, J., Spanier, E. 2014. Competition between common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and Israeli bottom trawl fishery for limited resources? Assessment by stomach contents and tissue stable isotopes analysis. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 94:1203-1220.

Sharir, Y. 2008. Morphometric characteristics of the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) population in the Levant Basin. Master’s thesis, University of Haifa, Israel. (In Hebrew, with English abstract).

Sharir, Y., Kerem, D., Gol’din, P., Spanier, E. 2011. Small size of common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) in the eastern Mediterranean: a possible case of Levantine nanism. Marine Ecology Progress Series 438:241-251.


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