Piltun Lagoon: Day Two of Rain and Wind

Post by Jake Levenson, Global Program Officer for Whales, IFAW Headquarters Office

This is our second day in a row of blowing wind. The weather makes it impossible to observe whales here at Camp Piltun. The water is just much too choppy for accurate lighthouse observations, and way too rough for safe boat-based photo-ID surveys. It's difficult enough to photograph whales on a sunny day, when the boat is rocking a bit in much tamer waves. Days like today would be just impossible, not to mention extremely dangerous!

So, instead of surveys and field work, we're taking care of some inside activities today. We're entering data now, and will continue to do so as long as our batteries last. As I'm writing this, Pasha is sitting next to me, entering data from hand-written notes into a computer spreadsheet, the first step before we can run statistical analysis on the numbers. I wish I could hlep, but I lack on essential skill: I can't read or write Russian.

This fresh southerly breeze does create good conditions for one thing: kite flying. This week has passed by so fast, and we haven't had a chance to use the kite-cam once. Because we all work from a small, inflatable boat, we can't use the kite-cam when we are surveying for whales -- too many people in too small of a boat. But I'm convinced the kite-cam would be a great way to survey the resident seal populations -- it's non-invasive and (hopefully) would not startle the human-shy seals who live here. Plus, let's be honest. I brought this kite-cam all the way to Russia from IFAW's Headquarters Office on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. I plan on using it!

After lunch, we plan to travel down to the southern spit of sand, which forms the lagoon's southern barrier from the ocean. Piltun's seals are exceptionally cautious, nothing like the seals that live along Cape Cod, which are accustomed to seeing humans regularly. These seals disappear as soon as we get close, bolting into the sea and disappear under the water. Seals are much more nimble in the ocean than on land, and after years of seal hunting in Russia they've figured out that if a human approaches it's time to flee to the water. Quite sad.  Thanks to the hard work of my Russian colleagues, it is now illegal to hunt harp seals under one-year-old, but you can't explain that to a seal. As a result, they'll probably continue to be frightened of humans for many years to come.

If the rain allows, Grisha and I will attempt to launch the kite-cam from this patch of sandbar. From there, will fly the kite over the seals' favorite haul-out site, allowing us to take photographs of the seal colony without scaring them off. We hope to get some high-quality images that will help us estimate the population size for this seal colony. If we're successful, this will be one more piece of information we can use to measure the health of Piltun Lagoon.

Let's hope it works!

Comments: 2

8 years ago

I agree with Jess! Whales rock, it's nice to see someone doing something about it. Don't let these russian whales go extinct!

8 years ago

Just wanted to leave a note and say how much enjoy reading this blog and being part of the protect whales group on facebook. You guys really are tackling some major conservation challenges to whales head on. Keep up the awesome work and I'll keep supporting you all the way!

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