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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
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
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
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.