Sakhalin Western Gray Whale Research Update: Back to Piltun!

It was difficult to reach the lighthouse because of the tundra landscape that includes many swamps, muddy rivers and sandy bars. During most of our trip we had no troubles, but at the very end of it, our vehicle got stuck in the mud and almost drawn in the river.

Once again, we gathered on Sakhalin Island (Russia) to continue monitoring of western population of gray whales. This year, we have a few goals to accomplish. First of all, it is to continue conducting photo-identification on gray whales in order to add new information on individually recognized whales. Also, we plan on collecting data on distribution and behaviour of whales in the area near the Piltun lagoon mouth.

Our camp is located within the territory of Piltun lighthouse – in close proximity to the primary feeding area for the majority of western gray whales, including mothers and their calves. In this region, there is a high risk of potential anthropogenic impact due to presence of oil/gas industry.

It was difficult to reach the lighthouse because of the tundra landscape that includes many swamps, muddy rivers and sandy bars. During most of our trip we had no troubles, but at the very end of it, our vehicle got stuck in the mud and almost drawn in the river. Surrounded by the thick fog, wet and tired we carried all our stuff and equipment from the track to the shore, where we set up our temporary camp. In one of our equipment boxes, we had a tent for two, where six of us spent the night seeking shelter from the rain.

The next day we managed to call local fishermen, who had a proper transportation for us to drive to the lighthouse. Soon they came to rescue us, and after loading our stuff we continued our trip on off-road vehicle. The next test to stand for us was spending our first night in a damp and comfortless house. It took a few days to settle down, clean the house, dry our clothes and food, and prepare research equipment for the next two months.

We will be regularly posting updates on our work and life in Piltun. Welcome to our blog!

--EZ

Stay tuned for regular updates from the team on Sakhalin Island as they continue their research on the western gray whale population in Russia.

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