The Russian Cetacean Habitat Project was initiated in 2009 to study the marine mammals in the waters of the Russian Far East seas. Russia has many seas, but few marine protected areas. The knowledge on cetacean abundance, distribution and population structure in Russia is sparse, and lack of research inhibits effective conservation measures. This is especially critical in light of increasing threats: developing oil exploration and drilling, severe overfishing, and live-capturing of some small cetacean species.

Many whale species inhabit the waters of Far Eastern Russia, but most of them have yet to be studied. The main objective of our project is to define the critical habitat of different whale species in the waters of the Russian Far East. Critical habitat refers to those parts of a cetaceanís range, either a whole species or a particular population of that species, that are essential for day-to-day survival, as well as for maintaining a healthy population growth rate. Areas that are regularly used for feeding (including hunting), breeding (all aspects of courtship) and raising calves, as well as, sometimes, migrating, are part of critical habitat, especially if these areas are regularly used. Critical habitat must also include considerations of where animals are being injured, killed or suffering other impacts; these include being hit by ships, caught accidentally in fishing gear, and being exposed to loud or persistent underwater noise.

It is important to have large protected areas where no commercial fishing, hydrocarbon exploration or other industrial activity occurs. We are working to learn as much as we can and to help keep this area healthy. We hope to identify and help create a network of highly protected whale habitat zones that could become a model for other marine protected areas to be designated in the future in Russian waters. Russia has had a strong tradition of creating and maintaining nature reserves, or zapovedniks, on land, but it has yet to begin matching that with significant large marine protected areas.

Humpback whale

Killer whale

Sperm whale

Baird's beaked whale

Dall's porpoise

Minke whale