Who’s Who (that speaks English) on the Western Gray Whale Team:
Post by Jake Levenson, Global Program Officer for Whales, IFAW Headquarters Office
IFAW's Western Pacific Gray Whale Project is a collaboration among quite a few interesting people from all manner backgrounds. But, despite our varied histories, we all have one thing in common. We are all determined to protect this species, no matter how daunting the task may be.
Grisha Tsiduko is co-principal investigator for the project and IFAW’s man-in-charge at the Piltun Lagoon research camp site. An IFAW staff member for seven years, this is already Grisha’s thirteenth field season here.
Western gray whale conservation is a family affair over here. When Grisha moves to the Piltun research site for the summer field season, his wife, Katiana, and their daughter both join him. This is an incredible sacrifice for Grisha and his family, and highlights their dedication to these endangered whales. While other Russian families are vacationing and relaxing during their brief summer, Grisha and his family live in an abandoned lighthouse with no power.
But, thankfully, Grisha, Katiana and six-year-old Aglia make the trek to this remote outpost every summer. I’m not sure what we would do without them. Grisha, of course, is involved with everything we do here. Katiana frequently helps as well, and often works with data collection and photo IDs. Even little Aglia knows her way around the camp, and is always eager to help. At six years old, I’m almost positive that Aglia takes the title of youngest whale field biologist on the planet, and it's a title she deserves.
You may remember Aglia from a previous post, when I wrote about my Russian language tutor, Glusha. That’s Aglia -- Glusha is her nickname. Thanks to her, I’ll be leaving Sakhalin with a much larger Russian vocabulary than the one I had when I arrived. I can now ask for a fork, spoon, cup or toilet paper in Russian.
Aglia is an incredible kid. I don’t think there are many six-year-olds out there who could do what she does every day. When we’re out on the boat, Aglia helps collect photographs and videos for whale identification. She’ll happily haul life jackets, and is always eager to assist with our daily carry of supplies back and forth from the boat. And, of course, she delights in checking in with everyone, ensuring we are all busily working away. The photo at the right shows Aglia helping us drain water from our boat, after a long day on the water. She may be little, but she always finds a way to help:
Like any child, Aglia loves her kuckla (doll), watches cartoons on her mom’s laptop (when we have enough generator power), reads and does her summer school work. If she decides to take up marine science as a career, she's sure going to have a head start. The best part, by far, is watching her with the whales. They thrill her, and her eagerness to help protect them is obvious. Russian words may be different than English, but vocal patterns and tone tend to be fairly similar across languages. I may not understand the words Aglia says most of the time, but I can tell she’s always asking questions.
With any luck, these whales will be around long enough for her children to ask questions about them too.