Western gray whale Ponchik survives last year's rope entanglement

And what a great surprise when the third whale we observed was Ponchik! Here is the story of one of the gray whales we see off of northeastern Sakhalin Island, Russia. Ponchik is a very well-known male, and is truly one of our good old friends.

He was first observed off of Sakhalin Island in 1995, and since then he has been coming to the Piltun feeding area almost every year. We have photographed him every summer except 2008 and 2010. Genetic studies show that he is the father of multiple calves identified in Piltun. He has also been photo-documented in the North Pacific off of Canada.

In 2013, a large-scale salmon fishery was operating in the Piltun nearshore area.

Two fishing net sets of 1.5 km in length were located perpendicular to the coastline.

During our 2013 expedition we observed Ponchik several times, in July and August. From photographs of 22 August 2013, it was established that Ponchik was entangled in fishing net gear with the rope wrapped around the caudal end of the fluke with an associated open wound.

Due to logistic difficulties to disentangle the whale, a rescue operation was not conducted.

This left us concerned about Ponchik’s survival.

RELATED: Spotlight Russia: Western Grey Whale Research Team begins 2014 expedition

On 8 July 2014, at the very beginning of our expedition, we went out to the sea to photograph all the individual whales we saw.

And what a great surprise when the third whale we observed was Ponchik!

This was very exciting and happy news for us.

Ponchik survived after last year’s entanglement, migrated back to the Piltun feeding area, and from this first sighting we did not notice any evidence of the fishing gear.

We hope we will have another chance to see him again this summer to make sure there are no lasting consequences from the entanglement on his tail.

Unfortunately, fishing activities are continuing off Piltun this year.

For now, we wish Ponchik a good feeding season and hope that no entanglement accidents happen to other whales in the area. 


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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