Despite long periods of foggy weather, Russian western gray whale expedition sees success

We photographed eight whales, which is a great feat for this field season!

This post was filed from the field by the International Fund for Animal Welfare Western Gray Whale Research team collectively. - MV

Here we are again, on Sakhalin Island, Russia.

Just like every year, we come to north-eastern Sakhalin, where every summer gray whales come to feed and end their long migration from winter grounds.

This year, our research team includes six people coming from different places: Vladivostok, Irkutsk, Kirov, and Kiev. Our main goal is to continue monitoring of gray whales off Sakhalin conducting photo-identification of whales from the boat (taking photographs of every whale we are going to see during next two months), and performing observations from the shore.

Following upon a previous eight days of bad weather, we now have had 11 days in a row of not being able to conduct our work at sea because of fog and winds.

We patiently waited for the better weather since our last working day on July 15th. And when the fog finally lifted away on July 27th, we were all excited and happy to jump into the boat, cross the lagoon, and be at sea looking for whales.

After so many days of bad weather, everything (sea state, visibility, wind) around seemed so perfect that we were a little intimidated and thought that it is not going to last.

However, the weather stayed nice for the whole day and we sighted and photographed good number of whales.

On July 27th, we went almost 40 km north from our camp. We photographed eight whales, new for this field season, but seen in previous years.

We also, saw a female that had a calf this year and was sighted with the calf on July 15th, but was already alone among other adult whales on 27th. This means that this female and her calf separated sometime between 15 and 27 July while we were waiting for the weather to get better.

We went out to the sea on July 28th as well.

This time we decided to go south from the lighthouse. Saw several groups of whales, many of them were feeding. It was an exciting day because we sighted three mother-calf pairs, two of which were new for this season. We managed to take a biopsy of one of the calves for the genetic analysis.

In the afternoon, the wind picked up and we had to go back to the camp. Unfortunately, today fog returned and covered everything around. However, we are still happy and pleased with our last two working days! 

--WGW Expedition

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