Western Gray Whales Meet an "Unreasonable Man" in Russian Big Oil

The International Fund for Animal Welfare has had a program to protect the western gray whale for years. Every year IFAW organizes expeditions to places where these whales live, specifically the northeastern coast of Sakhalin Island.

The friggate called "Hope".

I was a participant in the expedition a few years ago on a sailing frigate called "Hope". There are only about 100 western gray whales left in the wild, and the animal has a special protected status, but still they’re not lucky creatures: in their feeding grounds humans have found oil.

Now there is an active oil exploration program dead in the middle of where these beautiful whales swim, including in the area where these companies have placed oil platforms and pipelines. The whales have nowhere to go, and this is an important place for them, and perhaps the only place on Earth where they can eat, and even then only from May to November!

In the winter with the ice and freezing weather the whales go to the south, according to scientists, to the South China Sea where they produce their offspring, only to return the next season for feeding.

However, it is unknown where the whales go in between these times, but the noise from the oil pipeline along the bottom of the ocean, from the construction of oil platforms and shipping vessels is highly active and disturbing and worrying them and this causes the western gray whales to not eat normally - this is an obvious fact.

The author in the Sakhalin Island area where western gray whales feed.

Imagine that right under your kitchen window, railroad passes, and a bedroom wall when you're resting, occasionally knocking a jackhammer. Here are some in this area we have been monitoring the marine construction to prevent excessive industrial activity, some of which can kill whales.

When I first saw this habitat, you often don’t see the whale at first, but rather you find a characteristic smell like rotten seaweed, which he leaves as he exhales. At some point, suddenly, there's his head, back, tail fin, as the whale surfaces nearby, then the mist from its exhalation is simply stunning, his skin stretched taut as a bow string.

A breaching western gray whale.

Sometimes (though rarely) nearly the whole whale jumps out of water - a meter or two or three. But our whale surfaced quietly ... Whatever it was, our "lady whale (my colleagues came to this conclusion) was very curious - within 15 minutes (now she) swam around us, as if acquainted; Then dived, emerged, raising her head from the water, turning and looking at the group, then one eye, and the other eye.

At first I was not myself around this young lady: Weighing 25 tons with a playfully waving tail, and if she liked could have made us only a flat spot on the water. However, she stated in a friendly manner, circling around us, dwarfs that we were…The next minute my fear disappeared, my soul was easy, and I thought: They are, these whales will answer thee good for good, if you are not breaking into their house with all the rudeness and impudence of an unreasonable man.

It was at that moment I realized all this whale wanted for her and her future baby and all the whales in the ocean was peace.

Looking around I saw several oil platforms, tankers and ships, all buzzing, moving, and nobody caring about the whales here. Only through the work of several NGOs have we managed to draw the attention of the oil giants for the sea giants.

Now the Russian government announced the construction of three platforms in the area where I first met a whale off the north-eastern coast of Sakhalin Island. I know that if we can not stop this decision, we should at the very least be there to see and hear everything that is going to protect whales.

-- LA

For more information about the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to save animals in crisis around the world visit http://www.ifaw.org

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