Spotlight Russia: Western grey whale research presents new difficulties

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

26-27 of June. New difficulties, the compelled rest, first survey.

Members of the IFAW Russia Western Grey Whale research team on the island lighthouse balcony.We are on the Sakhalin’s island, far away from civilization, near the gulf Piltun. Our expedition will continue till the end of summer.

Thanks to media-technology you can follow our events in near real time.

A brand new day has met us with strong cold wind. Waves were enough strong to turn over our boat, if we would have done an attempt to go out to the sea. But we didn’t give up: we still did have some things to do, using collective mind.

First of all, it was an electric power. Because of different gasoline, as earlier times, our generator consumes much more fuel. The local diesel station has been staying in non-working condition, just like the lighthouse keeper, who has to watch it. We’ve taken difficult decision to turn on our electric station for a while, every time we need to charge our accumulators.

A session has been held concerning the lighthouse observations, principles of observing and the main types of whale’s behavior (feeding, moving, social activity). We have done equipment calibration and divided the regions of the sea for maximum coverage of the areas.

Next day the rain started.

Disappointed we stayed home.

We prepared our equipment for survey, did calibration of our technique, explained participants how to fill up our data base.

We played soccer to raise our fighting spirit and had a psychological testing.

In the evening we went fishing and took a Russian bath.

A brand new day: 28 of June.

There was a good weather and almost no wind.

The sun was shining.

Earlier awakening, breakfast.

We have lowered the boat to the sea and left.

Getting the boat going.Carefully going from the gulf to the sea, we were marking our way with GPS-points: in case of bad weather, we could always find the way back, using these GPS-points.

Using the help of the rest of our group, who stayed on the lighthouse and helped us by radio, we’ve found first whale. It was our old friend, called “Pirate”.

He has this name because of the prominent feature on his tale.

Whales haven’t got used to us yet.

That’s why some of them leave, when we get close to them and we try not to disturb them much.

Maxim, our terrific driver, takes the position first from one, then from the opposite side of the whale, giving Oksana the opportunity to take pictures to identify the whale.

Every whale has its own features: pigmentation, scares, morphology, what helps us precisely to identify the individual.

Besides driving, Maxim takes data of salinity, depth.

Evgeniya writes down these data and GPS-points with photo data.

Shooting video makes Aleksey the fourth participant of this day’s survey.

In total, we observed fourteen whales.

All of them we knew earlier years, except one, we haven’t seen in this area.

More than others we have remembered one male whale, about one year old, but pictures we couldn’t take from both sides, because he did unexpected turns all the time.

Running away from us a little bit, he finally let us to take a picture of his right side.

Later he has even emerged near us, about 25 feet away.

After seven hours of survey, we have finally returned home, full of impressions and pictures.

Next day with the same group, but Igor as cameraman already, has given us even more.

We have seen a mother with whale calf, what is not typical for this time of the year.

Usually they come at the end of July, beginning of August.

30 of June.

The weather was adverse again. We processed data and wrote the line for blog.

Best wishes,

Piltuns expedition by researching of grey whales. 

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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