Scientists to study health of white whales

Scientists to study health of white whales

21 June 2010

The integrated expedition of the Ecology and Evolution Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences began seasonal work on June 20, 2010 on the Belukha-White Whale Program, supervised by the institute's chief researcher Lev Mukhametov, PhD (Biology).


The expedition will continue last year's observations of white, or belukha, whales in the Russian seas, their occurrence, number, seasonal migrations, health and the genetic status of their populations. The team also works to protect white whales and to promote sustainable hunting of this species.


Research is currently being carried out in the White, Barents and Okhotsk seas. The expedition has two stations in the Russian Far East: one on Chkalov Island, Khabarovsk Territory, in the south of the Sea of Okhotsk, and another in the north of the sea in the village of Ust-Khairyuzovo on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Research will continue to focus on counting whales and recording their summer distribution. Captured whales are tagged with satellite transmitters before being released. New areas of research are the age and gender structure of the whale population and group behaviour. The expedition photographs whales to identify them, records their hydro-acoustic signals, conducts medical examinations and takes blood and tissue samples for biochemical and parasitological tests. In short, the expedition assesses the overall health of these wild whales and the suitability of their environment in accordance with international standards.


The Oceanology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, several institutes of its Far Eastern branch, Moscow State University, the Moscow Agricultural Academy, and the Federal Fishery Agency are all taking part in the field research. Articles will be written based on the information, photographs and video recordings collected during the exhibition and submitted to scientific journals for publication.


The program has been extended this year to diversify field research and to incorporate the work of the Ecology and Evolution Institute experimental base in Maly Utrish on the Black Sea coast. The institute will study the effect of man-made noises on whales' health. The noises of ship and submarine sonar as well as engines, oil derricks, seismic surveys and wind turbines are known to cause changes in whale behaviour and adversely affect their hearing and sleep. The expedition will examine these effects.