Spotlight Russia: Despite fog, Western Gray Whale Research Team’s work continues

The WGW research team photographs the 2014 season’s first mother-calf pairThis post was filed from the field by the International Fund for Animal Welfare Western Gray Whale (WGW) Research Team collectively. WGW team member Olya Sychenklo contributed this report -- MV

Here is the update on our gray whale research off northeastern Sakhalin Island. Since our first working day at sea on July 8th, the weather kept us in our camp on shore till July 14th. The air temperature ranged from just +4 to +12 C.

The fog lifted a few times, making only visible the Piltun lagoon, but the sea remained covered with the fog. There were a couple days of very strong winds, and we guessed that the sea looked stormy if we would be able to see it.

Start from the beginning: Read the 2014 expedition’s July 10 and July 17 posts.

On July 14th, when we finally had a clear morning, we decided to go out to the sea. The sea remained a little rough though.

We went south of the lighthouse (where our research base is located), and photographed only four gray whales. One of them was a calf of 2011 and one was calf of 2012. We observed both of them last summer as well. Wind picked up very quickly in a couple hours, and we had to go back to the camp because of the high sea state.

However, wind did not keep the fog away from the area. Next two days we spent sitting in our research base in the fog processing photographic data collected during the last working day.

Our next day at sea was not that long either.

On July 16th, the fog went away by 10 am giving us opportunity to see more whales.

This time we went to the north.

The sea was just perfect, and it gave us a hope for a very long and productive day. 

But here, in Piltun, it never goes the way we want.

In a few hours, a very thick fog came from north and caught up with us that we could not see more than 300 meters from the boat. So, again, we had to turn around and finish our day a sea.

We photographed 11 different gray whales. Nine of them have been seen in previous years. One whale looked like a yearling and was new to us. On the way back, we sighted mother-calf pair – first of this season. The female was known from previous years, but has never been seen with the calf before.

This was a very exciting and happy end of the day.

Unfortunately, as we know very well from our long-term experiences, Piltun weather never stays good for a long. That is why we were not surprised that we spent last two days in the camp again.

--The WGW Expedition Team

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