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Whale of a time

Marine ranger enjoys first known swim by Israeli with pod of false killer whales

Named for similarity of skull to real orcas, the dolphins are seen only once every few years in Gulf of Eilat

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

A false killer whale swimming off the coast of Eilat in southern Israel on October 4, 2022. (Omri Omessi, INPA)
A false killer whale swimming off the coast of Eilat in southern Israel on October 4, 2022. (Omri Omessi, INPA)

A marine ranger in Eilat on the southern tip of the country became the first known Israeli to swim with a pod of false killer whales this week.

Omri Omessi, who works for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, took to his jet ski Tuesday after a tip-off from Shahaf Ben Ezra, a Ph.D. student, who spotted the creatures from the shore.

False killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) are dolphins, usually found in tropical waters. Their name is based on the similarity of their skulls to real killer whales, or orcas, which are themselves part of the dolphin family.

Omessi reported Thursday that he had spent around an hour with some nine or ten of the dolphins — at least two males, four females, several calves at an advanced stage of development and another one or two whose sex he was unable to determine.

He initially maintained a distance of around 100 meters (330 feet), but, noticing their interest in him, stopped the vehicle and turned off the engine.

A pair of false killer whales swimming off the coast of Eilat in southern Israel on October 4, 2022. (Omri Omessi, INPA)

The group stayed near enough for him to be able to hear their lively sonar conversations.

Feeling comfortable, Omessi got into the water with his camera, whereupon the pod surrounded him for several minutes, checking him out and approaching him from different directions.

When he got back on his jet ski, the pod continued to swim alongside him until they formed a close cluster and swam over the maritime border into Egypt.

False killer whales, spotted just once every few years in the Gulf of Eilat, can grow to six meters (20 feet) long and weigh up to 1.5 tons.

Equipped with particularly sharp teeth for a dolphin, they feed on smaller marine creatures such as squid and fish.

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