Sakhalin Energy Investment Co. Ltd. (Sakhalin Energy) is undertaking its 2004 Western Gray Whale research program, conducted off the northeast coast of Sakhalin Island in Russia's Far East.
Sakhalin Energy is funding the program jointly with other oil companies working on Sakhalin offshore oil and gas projects, and over $2 million dollars is being spent this year. Russian scientific institutions supervised by VNIRO (the All-Russian Fisheries and Oceanography Research Institute, Moscow), as well as international experts, are conducting the program of studies, which consists of:
• Marine acoustic monitoring work, including ambient noise monitoring and transmission loss experiments
• Studies of benthic organisms
• Photo identification
• Aerial, vessel, and shore-based distribution surveys
• Whale behavior, providing a basis to further document potential impacts on the whales
• Further investigations regarding satellite-tagging technology.
The onshore program (distribution and behavior studies) and aerial surveys started in July and the vessel-based surveys in August. The surveys will run until October this year.
Sakhalin Energy, in partnership with other oil companies working on the Sakhalin shelf, has been involved in the monitoring and research of the Western Gray Whale since 1997. The long-term monitoring and research undertaken over the last seven years has increased the knowledge of Western Gray Whale ecology. For example, through benthic studies we know that the Piltun feeding area, and an offshore feeding area discovered in the last two years as a result of the monitoring work, are very rich in food resources. The presence and distribution of the whales offshore Sakhalin are directly related to the abundance of these food resources.
Additionally, at least 10 new calves were identified in 2003 through photo identification studies sponsored by Sakhalin Energy and partners. While this is the highest number of calves recorded since the studies began, it is not expected again this year as these whales give birth on average about once every three years and the overall whale population estimate is low. Nonetheless, the birth of so many calves last year is encouraging, and the monitoring teams will be keeping watch for new offspring again this season.
In addition to contributing to a greater understanding of the Western Gray Whale population and its lifecycle offshore of Sakhalin, the research and monitoring programs have contributed to the development of appropriate mitigation measures by Sakhalin Energy based on the best scientific knowledge available, and to ensure that potential impacts of its operations on the Western Gray Whales are minimized.