Many things are associated with Israel's Mediterranean shores: Tel Aviv's tourist-dense beaches, people playing the uniquely Israeli game of matkot in the sand (tennis-like game for the beach) and swimmers having to be cautious of jellyfish in the warm waters. However, there is another thing that is plentiful in Israel's warm waters that isn't as well-known: sharks.
While species of sharks such as the dusty shark or the sandbar shark are seemingly endangered in the Mediterranean, it seems as though Israel's shores are a safe place for the sharks to be.
Last week, dozens of sandbar sharks were seen off the coast of Ashdod by researchers from the Morris Kahn Marine Research Station of Haifa University.
Israel has exceptional legislation that bans the fishing of sharks and stingrays and defines them as protected natural assets, according to Dr. Aviad Sheinin, the head of apex predator research at the marine research station.
"It's important to remember not to harm the [sharks and stingrays] or their environment," Sheinin said."Sharks are the predators of the marine ecosystem and understanding their patterns and behavior is essential to understanding our entire system," he said, adding that they hope that their research will lead to them seeing a growing number of sharks in the coming years.
Last year, as part of a shark-tracking exercise, researches documented the unique return of both dusky and sandbar sharks to the shores of Hadera for the fifth year in a row; unique because this phenomenon isn't seen in other similar places on the planet. The sharks were documented to be grouping in the warm waters near the Rabin Lights power station on the shores of Hadera.
The sighting of sandbar sharks in Ashdod, together with last year's research adds to the growing notion that Israel is a "desert oasis" for sharks in the Mediterranean sea.
"The phenomenon of dozens of dusky sharks gathering around the hot water near the Hadera power plant is unique occurrence in Mediterranean these days. The current sighting of dozens of sandbar sharks grouping together occurs in several places, but it is certainly rare in the Mediterranean. It seems that while in most Mediterranean areas the sharks are endangered, while here, our beaches are exceptionally welcoming for them," Sheinin said.
Over the past five years students at the research facility have invested their time in research on the return of the dusty sharks to the power plant, including tagging and tracking their living patterns, which has never been researched before in Israel. The existence of a shark population in the Ashdod area is well-known.
While the researchers have been tagging and tracking the sharks outside of Hadera for five years, very little has been done on the sharks outside of Ashdod, despite their existence in the area being well-known, leading to uncertainty on how late into the year the sharks would be seen, and how many would be there.
"We were delighted to see groups of dozens of sharks, which we identified as sandbar sharks. They're an endangered species in the Mediterranean, so it was exciting for us to see such a large group here with us," Sheinin said.
The cessation of research in the last few months since the coronavirus started inhibits the researchers from being able to initiate tagging and tracking of the Ashdod sharks. However, they did manage to set up a receiver that can identify whether the Ashdod are just sharks that traveled down from Hadera.