Russian western gray whale expedition update: sneaking a peek at playful young ones
This post was filed from the field by the International Fund for Animal Welfare Western Gray Whale Research team collectively. - MV
And again, here is our news from foggy Piltun in north-eastern Sakhalin Island, where we study western gray whales.
Since our last blog, we had another long gap in our work because of bad weather conditions. The last day we spent at the sea photographing whales was on July 28th, between that and August 7th, we stayed in our research camp.
The fog in the area was a daily occurrence varying from thick fog (when we could hardly see the 30-m lighthouse) to the most frustrating fog covering only the sea. In addition to fog, we also had a few days of very strong south-eastern winds; these winds usually dominate in this area and they are our least favorite ones as they always bring fog.
On August 7th, however, we saw a small window of hope when the fog lifted away for a couple kilometers.
Of course, immediately we used this chance.
We spent only few hours at sea and mostly near the entry from the lagoon, but it was enough to see and photograph 13 individual whales.
We sighted three mother-calf pairs; two of them already photographed this year, and one pair new for the season with the female seen with calves in previous years.
Also, we saw a calf of this year without a mother meaning that, separation between them has happened sometime recently. and this is the second separation between mother and a calf this season so far.
The group of mother-calf pair, weaned calf and yearling (a calf born in 2012) was really fun to be around.
They did not mind us to be close, and showed us different types of behavior. They were interacting with each other, possibly because young whales enjoying playing with each other in ocean swells. Huge clouds of mud coming up on the surface indicated that they were also feeding on a sea floor.
And close interaction (tail to tail) between mother and her calf indicated that some nursing occurred as well.
On the next day, we had a rain, which we actually were happy about as our water well was getting less and less water (not many rains this year). But today rain stopped and fog returned, and we are back to only hope that tomorrow will bring better weather!
The western gray whale (WGW) expedition is a team of scientists from Russia and the USA that have been returning every summer since 1995 to Sakhalin Island (in the Sea of Okhotsk near Piltun Bay) to monitor and research western gray whales. Annually since 2000 IFAW has supported this research program that collects population data through photo-identification and genetic analysis of skin tissue biopsy samples. Information about population condition is very important to understanding the impact and influence of oil industry on the WGW population, and is key to IFAW’s WGW campaign.