Final western gray whale sightings of the summer as research season draws to a close

A western gray whale breaching near Piltun Island.We are back with the latest and final news update this season from Piltun.

Our western gray whale research in north-eastern Sakhalin, Russia, has come to an end, and we completed our 2013 research season. Overall, we are very pleased with the amount of information we managed to gather during the last two months.

Coming back to our previous blog, the last day we went out to sea was August 14. The weather kept us in the camp until August 20. During all these days we had very strong winds with some rain and fog.

The big storm came for a few days, and the sea looked just like boiling water with the gigantic waves, gifting us with the most powerful performance of this summer.

SEE ALSO: At season's end for Russian western gray whale expedition, new mother-calf pair sighted

Later all this power of nature turned into five days of good workable weather – a very fortunate finale for the end of the season.

A group of western gray whales.During those five days, we took three more biopsy samples (on one of the 2013 calves, and two adult whales), bringing our total number of genetic samples collected this year to six.

On August 21, we observed a mother-calf pair that we had previously sighted at the beginning of our work in 2013 (July 9) – the first pair of 2013 – the female and her calf were still together.

Also, we photographed eight individuals for the first time this season, though they had been seen in previous years; this increased the total number of gray whales recorded during the 2013 field season to 85 individuals.

Unfortunately, the end of our work brought us very unpleasant news.

On August 22, we discovered that one of the whales had a rope on his tail. We do not know when this entanglement happened, but there was an associated open wound where the line is abrading.

The entangled whale, known as Ponchik, is one of the most frequently encountered gray whales off Piltun, where he has been observed since 1995. He is also known to be a father of multiple calves, and in 2004 was sighted in the Pacific NW.

This was the first record of an entangled gray whale off Sakhalin Island.

So, we finished our 2013 expedition in Piltun with the mixed feelings of being pleased with the results of our work here and being sad to say goodbye to gray whales and Sakhalin until next year.

With fingers crossed, we all hope, that Ponchik will be back next year alive and healthy!


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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