Another stage of complex expedition ends in Russia’s Far East

Another stage of complex expedition ends in Russia’s Far East

26 January 2012

From mid August through mid October 2011, specialists from the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, the Russian Academy of Sciences, conducted field work in the village of Ust-Khairyuzovo in north-western Kamchatka to explore the estuaries of the Khairyuzovo, Belogolovaya and Moroshechnaya rivers. Expedition objectives included expanding the research, which was started during last year's expedition, in new areas, including the Moroshechnaya River basin, as well as to track white whale migration patterns, to identify their ages and to gather hydroacoustic records of the animals' sounds. Another expedition objective was to consider the feasibility of catching belugas and attaching satellite tags to them in the Okhotsk Sea.


Overall, the expedition was a success. On September 18, 2011 a Russian-made satellite tag was attached to a male beluga. The tag has operated properly for 1.5 months. Several days ago, the mammal left the Moroshechnaya River, and swam toward the Khairyuzovo and Belogolovaya river estuaries.


The summer's weather conditions were unfavourable with gusting winds, high waves and strong currents observed in the Moroshechnaya River throughout the expedition activities. These conditions are typical of river estuaries that flow into the Okhotsk Sea on Kamchatka's northwest coast, and this season they made satellite-tagging difficult. Many days found beluga whales arriving with their calves. This made catching them impossible and scientists were only able to take photographs.


Overall, the coastal studies have provided vast data, with skin biopsy samples taken from 24 white whales for further genetic analysis. In the Moroshechnaya River estuary, large groups of animals were observed, including fish, beluga whales and their calves, and seals. Through photo identification, scientists planned to track individual whale migration patterns between the estuaries of the Khairyuzovo and Belogolovaya rivers on one side, and the Moroshechnaya River, located 40 km to the south, on the other side. Photographs have not revealed any of the animals' migration patterns so far. A separate herd of belugas possibly inhabits the Moroshechnaya River estuary during summer and migrates a short distance into the Sea of Okhotsk. But to reach a final conclusion, this supposition requires additional research to be gathered over the next several years.


Under the preparations for the Ice Seal Species project, planned for 2012 and 2013 on Ptichy Island, a total of eight seals – one bearded seal and seven spotted seals – were caught on October 9, 2011. Russian-made ARGOS Pulsar satellite tags were attached to the bearded seal and six of the spotted seals. These animals are beluga whale food rivals. Currently, all the seals have left Ptichy Island waters. The bearded seal is swimming some 20 km off the island coast. One spotted seal has migrated a good distance and is now at a rookery on the western coast of Shelikhov Bay near the city of Magadan. The satellite tags were attached to the animals' backs near their shoulder blades, and scientists expect to receive a stable signal from the tags whenever the seals come ashore.


Research under the Beluga White Whale Programme will continue in 2012.