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Far East Russia Orca Project expedition 2003

Our field season in 2003 had started earlier than usual - we arrived to the island at the end of June. The weather was mostly good, we went to the sea almost every day, but we met no orcas for more than a week. Local fishermen were also wondering about long absence of orcas - according to their words there were no orcas for two weeks before our arrival.

We were really happy when we met our first orcas in this season. The animals were familiar to us - there was one male with hooked dorsal fin, named Hooky. We also met this group next day and followed them for some time looking for how they were foraging. Land-observers enjoyed the opportunity to try their new theodolyte and new system of orca observation.

We met orca groups for two more days, and then they disappeared again. We spent several good sunny days traveling back and forth along the shore, but met only young minke whale, which become very interested in our boat and allowed us to make photos of him.

In the last day we decided to search for orcas in the open sea. We went 10 kilometers from the shore, dropped the hydrophone - and heard the calls. There was a mist over the sea, and we couldn't see orcas, but we had find the direction of the calls with the help of the device for underwater sound localization, which was used in this season for the first time. With this device we had found big orca multigroup aggregation. It was our last orcas in the first part of expedition. Next day we returned to the city in order to set off for cetacea account cruise over Kuril Islands at the vessel "Vyacheslav Timonov". We had a good start - the weather was fine, and we accounted a lot of sea otters in Russkaya Bay where we came for the fresh water.

Two days later we reached Shumshu - the most northern island of the Kurils. We spent the night in strait between Shumshu and Paramushir and entered the sea of Okhotsk next day. There we met our first Kuril orcas - a big multigroup aggregation.

We moved to the south along the Kurils and for the first days met orcas every day. But near Simushir fog changed from recurrent to permanent, and what we only had was to watch Dall's porpoises often traveling near the ship bow.

Near Kunashir the fog cleared away for one day, and we saw a lot of Pacific white-sided dolphins - wonderful and very beautiful animals, which not only followed our ship, but also jumped out of the water, which we never saw in Dall's porpoises.

Then we went to Sakhalin, but only the fog was waiting for us there. In rare fog breaks we discerned oil derrick, and then we spotted a gray whale. While lowering the boat we lost him, but noticed lonely orca male, who was successfully photographed. After that the fog had thicken, and we saw no more whales near Sakhalin.

But on the way back to Kurils, in the center of Okhotsk sea we were lucky to see two northern right whales - very rare animals, endangered because of the whaling in past years.

When we reached Kurils, we had to stay in the bay waiting through typhoon. Then we moved north again in the fog. Only near Paramushir we met two gray whales, and orcas in Kamchatkan waters.

We returned to the city, and then to the island again. It was the end of August already, and orca encounters were much more often, although the weather was not so good as in June. We met Hooky group and some other familiar groups - it seemed that the same groups were traveling over the area there and back again. Here the device for underwater sound localization had helped us again, especiallyin searching for orcas in the fog, when land-observers couldn't see them.

Finally orcas gave us a performance - with breaching, tail slapping and swimming upside down - the behavior usually defined as "socializing".

When we were leaving the island we witnessed a very unpleasant event - a tourist boat approached our island (which is a nature reserve) and one of the tourists had shoot the duck. The boat didn't answer the radio requests, and when we tried to draw up a report in Fish Police next day, it turned out, that the poacher was one of the local bigwigs, and the case was hushed up. Such is a story.



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17 July 2014 10:10
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