Annual study of beluga whales in Russia’s White Sea successfully concludes

Beluga

Another season of data collection of the Solovetsky Island beluga whale congregation off Cape Beluzhy, held every year as part of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) White Sea Beluga Whale Project, has concluded. The Staff of the Marine Mammals Laboratory from the P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology for the Russian Academy of Sciences enjoyed much good weather, contributing to the project’s success.

READ: Annual study on beluga whales continues

The main goal of the project this season was the annual monitoring of population numbers and the ages of the whales. Using the quadcopters provided by IFAW and remotely piloted aircraft it was possible to follow the movement and behavior of beluga whales in remote areas.

To ensure we didn’t disturb the animals, we mandated that the quadcopters not fly below 30 meters. Otherwise, beluga whales would show an unnatural defensive behavior and swim away from the craft.

Based on preliminary data, there were a total of potentially 70 beluga whales, including an extremely high number of newborns (potentially 10 calves). In addition to photographing the calves in various stages of growing-up, we have now identified 54 animals, many of which were seen in these waters during previous seasons.

We collected four tissue samples, which will undergo molecular-genetic and toxicology testing. Currently the tissue sample bank of the White Sea beluga whale population accumulated over five years contains 30 samples.

More than 40 hours of acoustic recording will be paired with the beluga whales' observed behavior.

This summer, travelers and tourists flocked to see the ever-popular Solovetsky beluga whales; one day in July saw a whopping 140 in total. Unfortunately, not all tour operators follow the rules while whale-watching, failing to stay away from the beluga whales and crossing the routes of the animals’ movements. In such situations, participants of the study had to intervene, insisting that the boats be moved to locations that are safe for the animals.

Now, onto the next stage: The scientists begin the task of processing and analyzing all the collected data.

--MV

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