In 2009 we worked in three regions of Eastern Kamchatka: Karaginsky Gulf, Avacha Gulf and the Commander Islands. Avacha Gulf and Karaginsky Gulf are in regions where there are intensive fisheries, but the waters around the Commander Islands are a marine protected area.
At Karaginsky Gulf, we worked from 8 June to 23 July. We worked at sea from a 4.8m inflatable boat with an outboard motor. The total length of tracks during the boat-based work was 1322.3 km. We also made one survey onboard a big cargo ship in Litke Strait between Karaginsky Island and the mainland. During the surveys we used our GPS track and recorded all the cetaceans we observed. If we met killer whales or humpback whales, we took photographs for identification. In all, we identified 38 killer whales. All were of the resident ecotype. Some 24 of these killer whales were observed previously in Avacha Gulf. We also identified a total of 13 humpback whales, six of which were encountered in previous years in the Karaginsky Island area. Two animals were sighted more than once in 2009: one animal was re-sighted twice in 2009, and one animal was re-sighted once.
Our results suggest that killer whales from the Karaginsky Island area are part of the Eastern Kamchatka population. Humpback whales, on the other hand, belong to a separate Karaginsky feeding stock which shows high site-fidelity through the years. Besides humpback and killer whales, we have also encountered in the Karaginsky Island area about 26 harbour porpoises (9 groups), 12 Dallís porpoises (4 groups) and 23 minke whales.
In Avacha Gulf, we worked from 19th July till 22nd of August. We worked at sea from the 4.3m inflatable boat with outboard motor. The total length of tracks during the boat-based work was 630.5 km.
In Avacha Gulf the most frequently encountered species was the killer whale. We photographed killer whales for photo-identification. In 2009, we identified 119 killer whales in Avacha Gulf. Most of these whales were regularly encountered in the area in previous years. Besides killer whales, we also met 6 humpback whales, 1 gray whale, 5-7 Dallís porpoises (3 groups) and 5 minke whales.
In the Commander Islands, we conducted land-based observations with binoculars and a telescope. If killer whales appeared in the area, we worked with them from the boat to get photographs for identification. We also took photographs of humpback whales during the boat-based work. The total length of tracks during the boat-based work was 332.3 km.
Land-based observations were conducted from 10 August to 13 September. The total duration of visual observations was 280 hours 28 minutes, the total duration of scanning the area with binoculars Ė 127 hours 21 minutes. During the land-based observations we scanned the area with binoculars for 15 minutes every half an hour. The binoculars had a built-in compass and distance grid which allowed us to note the azimuth and the distance to all observed cetaceans. Later we calculated the latitude and longitude of each animal and mapped the encounter. During the observations we observed seven cetacean species: killer whale, sperm whale, Bairdís beaked whale, Dallís porpoise, humpback whale, minke whale, and fin whale. Humpback whales and killer whales were the most frequently encountered species in the area.
We met mostly resident (fish-eating) killer whales, and only two encounters were with transient (mammal-eating) killer whales. During boat-based work we encountered a total of 244 killer whales. Photo-identification allowed us to find matches between the Commander Islands and other areas of Kamchatka. Six identified groups were observed previously in Avacha Gulf of Kamchatka, and one group was also seen in Litke Strait (Karaginsky Gulf) in July 2009. These matches suggest that groups of resident killer whales can travel between Commander Islands and different parts of Kamchatka ó all part of the same population.
During the boat-based observations we identified a total of 63 humpback whales. Two of these whales were encountered off the Commander Islands in 2005, while the others were new to us. Some whales were encountered several times in 2009: 9 whales were encountered twice, 4 whales were encountered three times, one whale was encountered 4 times. We have found no matches between the Commander Islands and other regions of Kamchatka. Our results suggest that the Commander Islands stock apparently represents a seasonal feeding aggregation, and humpback whales stay there for the feeding season rather than migrate through the waters of the Reserve to other areas. Consequently, we suppose that the waters of the Commander Islands are a significant feeding ground for humpback whales, but the numbers and habitat preferences of these whales in the area are yet to be determined through our wide-area survey.
Other whale species appeared less frequently than killer and humpback whales. We saw a total of 21 sperm whales, 2 groups of Bairdís beaked whales (6-10 animals in total), 13 groups of Dallís porpoises (about 80 animals in total), 67 minke whales, and 2 fin whales.
Baird's beaked whale