Gray whale research off northeastern Sakhalin Island and eastern Kamchatka, Russia, in 2018
Alexander M. Burdin, Olga Sychenko and Matvey Mamaev
In 2018 using photo-id and biopsy data from the Russian Gray Whale Project funded by IFAW (Burdin et al. 2016; 2017, 2018) the population assessment of gray whales feeding off Sakhalin and Kamchatka was updated (Cooke et al., 2017) using a population model that allows for multiple feeding and breeding areas. This report reviews findings from 2018 research activities and combines such with data from previous years, in some cases ranging back to an opportunistic survey in 1994. Photo-identification research conducted off Sakhalin Island in 2018 resulted in the identification of 23 whales, including five calves. Six previously unidentified non-calf whales were observed. One previously unidentified reproductive female was recorded in 2018, resulting in a minimum of 35 reproductive females being observed since 1995. A 2018 gray whale survey in Kronotsky Gulf (East Kamchatka) provided important information about the Kamchatka-Sakhalin subpopulation. Western gray whales are facing a number of difficulties like the large-scale offshore oil and gas development near their summer feeding ground, as well as fatal net entrapments off Japan during migration that pose significant threats to the survival of the population. Using the IUCN Red List criteria, the Sakhalin and Kamchatka populations, if assessed as a subpopulation, either separately or together, would be classified as Endangered, on the basis of there being between 50 and 250 mature individuals.