Memories of ground-breaking whale research aboard the Nadezhda

The expedition aboard the Nadezhda, pictured here, is just one example of research IFAW conducts to save gray whales, which have almost disappeared off the face of the planet.

My knees were shaking.

My heart was beating like crazy, and tears were welling up in my eyes.

We were approaching the magnificent snow-white sailing ship Nadezhda.

In the summer of 2006, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) organized a month-long expedition aboard this very ship to study and protect gray whales, and here, many years later, I had the privilege to visit it, anchored in port, while preparing for the recent Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.

I was 23 at the time of the expedition. A researcher, I did not fully appreciate the scale of the work—the complexity of logistics, the adjustment of plans along the way strategically and tactically. I did learn during that trip that no matter how well you plan, life makes its changes, and it is necessary to remain flexible.

During that memorable but limited month, we worked in an emergency mode: We performed visual and acoustic monitoring, and kept expedition diary in two languages as it was important to keep the world updated. There were no smartphones or wireless internet at the time. We were downloading photographs, formatting them to the proper size and, after umpteenth attempts, managing to send them to IFAW’s US headquarters through satellite communication.

Teams of journalists from the best publications participated in the expedition in shifts. IFAW made possible the work of several groups of scientists. A camp was also set up at the north coast of Sakhalin; we’ve been doing research there ever since.

We went on board and were met by the team in dress uniforms. I saw the people who for three weeks were my family. I immediately managed to find the quarters of the first mate, Andrey Gennadievich, a kind and good-humored guide in the world of marine adventures.

He had been my mentor and was also glad to see me. He opened his photo album and we looked through old pictures together while drinking coffee.

He said he remembers our expedition as the one with noble goals, and that he would like to once again sail with whale rescuers.

The other day, we received photos of the new exhibit of the IFAW expedition at the Museum of the Sea of Far Eastern Floating University, and I thought wistfully of that memorable month when we made a difference for the Western gray whale's survival in the waters off Russia.

--EZ

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