Slow days still leave Russian Gray Whale Team with plenty to do

Each summer the team sees native people who stop by the camp and lighthouse, and very often they have their reindeers with them.

This update on the western gray whale (WGW) expedition was filed on behalf of the team by IFAW Russia staff member Anna Filippova. --MV


As we are posting another blog, our gray whale research off northeastern Sakhalin is continued.

August brought many days with good weather, which has not happened for last several years. But there are always days when we are not able to go out to the sea to look for whales because of the weather.

RELATED: Gray Whale Research Team marks eight new calves so far

The climate in Piltun creates real challenges for us to work: it is either fog, or wind, or rain, or all at once. But despite that, we always stay grateful for every day spent in this wonderful land of tundra, fog and whales.

We also, have many other things to do and we try to catch up on them during bad weather days. Usually, the first thing that needs to be accomplished is entering the data that we collect while on the boat. It is all information we gather when approaching every group of whales we see.

The author entering the data the team collects while on their boat.For example, how many whales in each group, who those whales are, their behavior, and environmental data – this all needs to be entered in our database. We also need to clean all our equipment that we use at sea because marine environment tend to destroy or shorten life of some things if no proper care is taken.

The rest of the duties are related to our typical house life.

One of them is preparing woods for our big stove that we use for cooking and warming up the house. Every night, when we turn on our generator, we pump water for the next day. There is always a need to go through vegetables as the local environment does not allow keeping them in good conditions for a long time.

Baking bread and making banya are very exciting procedures here. It happens only once or twice a week, and the best what you can get out here is having a hot banya on a foggy and windy day, and coming back from the sea to the camp with fresh bread and tea on a table.

And of course, there is always a free time which we spend on reading books, walking on the beach, and exploring a beauty of surrounding tundra.

Another very exciting moment out here is meeting local people. Each summer we see native people who stop by our camp and lighthouse, and very often they have their reindeers with them.

They move to different places within nearby area during summer, and sometimes we have a chance to hear stories about their life in tundra. It gives a different perspective on life in general, and how we usually forget to appreciate things gifted to us by nature.

This is one of those rare opportunities that have a power to change our understanding.

So, when we come back to our daily life in the cities, we always remember it as a priceless experience of touching disappearing cultures that occurred in our time, but hopefully will still exist in lives of our children and grandchildren. 

--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