New data on white whales in the Sea of Okhotsk

New data on white whales in the Sea of Okhotsk

10 December 2013

In mid-autumn this year, experts of the Marine Mammal Council (MMC) concluded field work as part of a project to study the white whale population of the western part of the Sea of Okhotsk. Under the leadership of Olga Shpak, DSc in Biology, MMC member and research fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Permanent Expedition for Research of the Animals on the Red List of Endangered Species and Other Especially Important Species of Russian Fauna, participants divided into two teams and conducted research in the area of the Shantar Islands and the Sakhalin Gulf from July to September 2013.


The first team monitored the coastline from Uda Bay to Ulbansky Bay, travelling by inflated boat. Experts took skin samples of whales they encountered, took high-resolution photographs, studied their behaviour patterns, and made recordings of the sounds they made.


The expedition has helped gather important material, giving scientists a more detailed understanding of the population distribution in the area and how white whales' behaviour patterns change with age. Experts have studied various groups of animals, from mothers and their offspring to groups consisting of only adult males. Individual photos of each white whale will make it easier to identify them and determine their physical condition, while genetic tests will enable scientists to shed light on the genetic relationship between whales from different pods, as well as to determine how isolated the western population of the Sea of Okhotsk is from the northeastern population.


The second team monitored white whales in the Sakhalin Gulf, in the area of the Chkalov and Baidukov islands, and also collected data to evaluate the animals' health. Blood tests will be taken soon from several animals to check if they have enough antibodies to fight major viral and bacterial infections. Fat will also be tested for organic pollutants.


The experts will report on the results of the expedition at the 8th Marine Mammals of the Holarctic international conference, which will take place in St Petersburg in autumn 2014.

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