Spotlight Russia: Western Gray Whale Research Team begins 2014 expedition

The WGW team photographs their good friend, Svetlana, a well-known female whale, near the Piltun lighthouseThis post was filed from the field by the International Fund for Animal Welfare Western Gray Whale (WGW) Research team collectively. -- MV

Our long-term research on gray whales is continuing.

As usual, we looked forward to spending two summer months in the north-eastern coast of Sakhalin Island where we study western population of gray whales.

Our research began in 1994 and produced very important and valuable information on different aspects of life of gray whales.

The main purpose of our study is monitoring of critically endangered western population of gray whales in their feeding grounds near the local lagoon Piltun, which is entered to the Sea of Okhotsk.

Every year, gray whales migrate to these shallow waters to feed. So, as us – a small group of biologists – “migrating” here from different parts of our country, and sometimes of the world, to collect as much information as we can.

Relive past WGW team voyages; start with their first 2012 blog post

Our research is based on photo-identification of whales: we photograph every whale we see in order to either recognize one of our old friends or to give a whale a new identification number, and hopefully to increase our gray whale catalog with new individual whales.

This year, our research team (traditionally of six people) included four students from Kirov, boat driver from Sevastopol, and gray whale biologist from Vladivostok. We all met each other in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, where our journey took place.

Our route from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Piltun has not changed for years and includes: train to Nogliki, purchasing food and other things for the next month, and driving from Nogliki to Piltun lighthouse in a big truck across the tundra. The whole trip went well and without unexpected adventures. We arrived to our “home” for the next two month just several days ago.

Piltun met us with the cold weather, fog, and strong winds, which continued for a few days. During those days we unpacked and organized all equipment that we need for our work, put together boats, and tested our new engine.

July 8th was the first day when we were able to go out to the sea.

The fog lifted up in the afternoon and we had the opportunity to work for a few hours.

It was very exciting to see our first gray whales of this season.

We photographed 12 individual whales, all of them we knew from the previous years. A few of them we could even call our good old friends.

One of the first sighted whales was Svetlana, she is well known female (since 1997) that had multiple calves in different years. She was very calm feeding around our boat and we took good photographs of her.

So, this was a very good start of the expedition.


Visit our program page to learn more about IFAW’s whale-related research, rescue, and advocacy.

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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