With empty beaches, sharks are returning to Israel’s coast

Israel’s beaches are pretty empty these days, but some are enjoying them more this way. Dozens of spotted sandbar sharks have been spotted on Israel shores by researchers at the University of Haifa.

The sharks were spotted off the coast of Ashdod, Israel’s sixth-largest city and the largest port in the country. Researchers at the University’s Morris Kahn Marine Research Station witnessed a large group of sharks swimming off Ashdod’s coast, presumably emboldened by the decrease in human activity.

It was impressive to see the sharks in such large numbers, particularly as the overall population numbers seem to be decreasing, which recently led their designation as a “vulnerable”.

Furthermore, this comes just days after another spotting off the Israelian city of Hadera. In Hadera, the sharks were moving towards the warmer water near Hadera’s power plant.

“This current sighting of sandbar sharks has occurred in several places around the world, but it is rare to see them in the Mediterranean,” said marine biologist Aviad Sheinin, also the top predator project manager at University of Haifa. “It seems that while most of the Mediterranean sharks are in danger of extinction, our beaches are exceptionally friendly to them.”

It’s not the first time sharks off the coast of Israel have drawn scientific interest. University researchers and students have been monitoring the sharks off the coast of Hadera for five years, tagging them with GPS trackers and monitoring their patterns.

A researcher in a kayak studies sharks in the shallow waters near Hadera, Israel. Photo by Hagai Nativ/Morris Kahn Marine Research Station/University of Haifa.

Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the university’s research has also been put on hold for the past two months. This prevented researchers to truly take advantage of this opportunity and tag the sharks properly, which would have allowed them to trace the movement of the sharks. For now, they are only following the sharks remotely, keeping an eye on any sightings.

Understanding the dynamics of this population is particularly important as their numbers seem to be steadily decreasing. Throughout the Mediterranean, these sightings are very rare and are almost exclusively restricted to the Israelian coast. It’s not clear why the sharks prefer Israel.

“The number of sharks in the Mediterranean Sea is decreasing due to over-fishing of their food, or the fishing of the sharks themselves unintentionally,” Dr. Sheinin concluded. “Part of the research is focused on trying to reduce their unintentional grouping, in a bid to help preserve them.”

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