Moscow hosts the international exhibition, World Ocean 2011

Moscow hosts the international exhibition, World Ocean 2011

5 December 2011

Participants in the exhibition included the Beluga - White Whale permanent expedition of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which carries out a research programme into the beluga habitat and migration. The expedition is organised with the support from the Russian Geographical Society.

The three-day exhibition featured specialised demonstration sites devoted to the research and exploration of the World Ocean in the present and future.


The open hearings and reports included the following:


1. The Beluga - White Whale programme (Dmitry Glazov, leading engineer at the Institute of Ecology and Evolution, the Russian Academy of Sciences).


2. Beluga or canary of the sea. Behaviour and social relations. (Olga Shpak, PhD in biology, research associate at the Institute of Ecology and Evolution, the Russian Academy of Sciences).


3. The use of satellite technologies for animal research (Alexander Salman, general director, ES-PAS).


The exhibition showcased modern methods of zoological research and Russian-made satellite tags, providing visitors with an opportunity to play the role of a research-pilot. Visitors at the event were also able to watch documentary films about the programme's activities and view a photo exhibition dedicated to the World Ocean.


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"What do aerial surveys consist of? Flying the plane, watching the sea and animals, admiring the wonderful nature and taking as many photos as you want. But it's more difficult than it seems at first glance.

"In reality, it is a very complicated and exhausting process that starts long before you board the plane. First, you have to plan out the routes. They have to be the right routes from a scientific standpoint, while remaining within the technical capabilities of the plane and the limitations of the poorly developed airport network in Russia's remote regions.

"It often happens that before a flight the weather is bad, or the only runway at the destination airport has been washed away, or an air traffic controller has a day off and there is no replacement, or the armed forces have shut down this particular region. Then you have to wait, but have to be ready to fly at a moment's notice. Sometimes, you have to wait a whole week.

"The work is not a walk in the park. Sometimes, you have to fly for seven hours per day, watching the water all the time without a break. And the whole time you are hunched over to see through the porthole, analysing everything you see and dictating to a recorder. Sometimes you won't see a single animal for the whole day.

"The work does not end after you land – you have to archive materials, do the initial processing and get ready for the next flight. Sometimes you have to spend a whole month or even more on this."

Boris Solovyov, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences' (RAS) permanent expedition to study Red Book animals and other important species of Russia

According to Natalya Remennikova, project coordinator at the RAS Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, quite often the public knows very little about the difficult routine work done by researchers during field studies, especially those who work with animals. Few people realise how gruelling it can be – researchers work in arduous conditions, in hot and cold weather, on the ground and at sea, often risking their own lives in the process.


The excerpt from Boris Solovyov captures well the tedious side of this work. Boris took representatives of the Russian Geographical Society (RGS) on a small tour of a photo exhibit at the international exhibition, the World Ocean -2011, in the Crocus Expo Centre.


A video made during the expeditions shows how close researchers had to get to a whale on a small rubber boat in order to place a transmitter on it and take a skin sample. At one point, the whale almost capsized the boat with its powerful tail. Of course, there is plenty of beauty to distract from the danger, such as localised snowfalls illuminated by the red and yellow hued sunlight. This sunset effect can be seen for practically the entire day in autumn and spring in the Arctic, because the sun does not rise very high above the horizon and the dawn grades into dusk. A view from a plane reveals the breadth of natural beauty and many curious details – underwater "rivers" clearly visible under the clear water surface, and white whales hunting salmon in shallow waters during high tide.


The permanent expedition put together an interesting display at the international exhibition. Visitors could imagine themselves members of a research plane crew, hear the comments of the air traffic controller and get a bird eye view of the Sea of Okhotsk from the window cabin. They could also see real-time recording from a plane, showing individual species and whole flocks of white whales and other sea animals. Their white backs can be seen dipping into the dark blue water and then emerging again. White whale calves, whose backs are still grey, swim side by side with their mothers. The camera man records the location of every animal and counts them. This interactive display was met with an enthusiastic response, and we took pictures of the happy visitors watching the white whales.


Films about all programmes carried out by the Severtsov Institute with the RGS support were shown during the exhibition. Visitors could see different types of Argos satellite tracking devices used to monitor grey whales, seals, white whales and walruses; satellite data receivers; and satellite collars for monitoring wild boars and polar bears. Experts explained that satellite collars are only put on the slim necks of female polar bears, as they won't fit the males well.


Expedition leaders and members described all ongoing research programmes and made a number of presentations on a giant plasma screen. For more information, visit the sites of the RGS and the RAS permanent expedition to study Red Book animals and other important species of Russia.