Gray whale research in 2021 Off Northeastern Sakhalin Island and Eastern Kamchatka, Russia
Alexander M. Burdin, Olga Sychenko and Anastasiya Kunitsa
In 2021, research on western gray whales off northeastern Sakhalin Island and off the southeastern coast of Kamchatka (Kronotsky Bay) was conducted by the Russian Gray Whale Project (A. Burdin, PI). In Sakhalin work was conducted from 7 July to 8 September during which time 20 boat surveys were completed. A total of 146 whale groups were
encountered (with repeated sightings) and 42 unique whales were identified. Fourteen mother-calf pairs and three new whales at the age 1+, previously not seen in the study area, were observed in the nearshore Piltun feeding area. Thus, our catalog of whales summering off Sakhalin between 1994-2021 includes 331 individuals. In comparison to 2020 the general distribution of whales was similar, but more whales were observed north of the Piltun Lagoon mouth, and more whales were observed feeding in deeper waters than usual. The total number of gray whales using the study area was higher than in 2020 (42 and 32 respectively). In 2021, studies of gray whales in the Kamchatka Peninsula (Olga Bay, Kronotsky Gulf), were conducted on 23 August. We encountered 9 whales of which 3 were from the Sakhalin catalog and were previously observed in the Piltun feeding area. All these animals were not observed in 2021 in the Piltun area during our study. Thus, the results of the 2021 research indicate the relative stability of whale numbers in the Piltun feeding area and confirming it primary importance for mother-calf pairs as well as newly weaned animals.