Field journal: northeastern Russia western gray whale expedition - three weeks in

We keep our fingers crossed for the fog to step back, and hopefully, continue our work at sea.This post was filed from the field by the International Fund for Animal Welfare Western Gray Whale Research team collectively. - MV

Our research on western gray whales off Sakhalin Island is going on for more than three weeks now.

Our adventure began in Yuzhno-Sakhlinsk, where we all flew in on July 1st. The same evening we took a train to Nogliki – a final destination of all trains on Sakhalin, where we arrived the next morning.

We spent a day in Nogliki purchasing everything we would need for the next two months. Our old friend Sasha provides us with the transportation every year – big truck that we fully loaded with our boats, equipment, food and everything else.

On the next morning, Sasha drove us to our research camp based in Piltun lighthouse area (lighthouse is located by the entrance from Piltun bay to the Sea of Okhotsk). Trip to the camp went very smooth: we were lucky with tide heights and easily crossed our main obstacle – river, where we got stuck two years ago.

But, as we already knew, everything in Piltun depends on the weather.

Unfortunately, since our last working day on the sea on July 15th, we have not had any chances to go out on the boat because of the bad weather conditions. Today is day number eight of fog covering our study area - all of these days we could not even see the sea!

In addition to the fog, we’ve had a few days of strong winds and now rain this morning. Yet not even the winds, or rain could drive the fog away. We are desperately waiting for the wind direction to change in order to bring some better weather.

But that is how it goes here, on Piltun, by the Sea of Okhotsk: lots of days of unworkable weather, but still with the opportunity to enjoy our surroundings.

One day, with the sea and Piltun bay covered with the thick fog, we were fortunate enough to have nice weather inland, and we decided to use this chance to go for a walk in the tundra.

The beauty of the tundra is not necessarily immediately noticeable by everyone, especially if seeing such environments for the first time (as it was for a couple of our team members). But once you really look around and allow yourself to “dive” in, the world around amazes you with every fascinating living thing, its fragility, and its adaptation to these harsh environmental conditions, making for an unforgettable experience and journey in your life.

We will be back shortly with the updates!

--WGW Expedition

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.

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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation