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Far East Russia Orca Project expedition 2020
In 2020 we conducted field expedition in eastern Kamchatka from 12th of June till 11th of September. The stationary work was held in two different locations: in the southern Avacha Gulf (our traditional location since 2000) and in the southern Kamchatsky Gulf. The distance between two study areas is approximately 360 km.
During our trip from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Kamchatsky Gulf and back we met killer whales near cape Shipunsky. During both encounters the whales were feeding on fish. The whales were from the local Avacha Gulf families. Cape Shipunsky is an important feeding location to Avacha Gulf orcas. They hunt on different salmon species and Pacific halibut (FEROP data from previous years). Cape Shipunsky is the only known spot where killer whales hunt on halibut.
We had only 5 days with orcas in Kamchatsky Gulf. We encountered two large fish-eating killer whale aggregations (60-70 individuals) and two smaller aggregations (less than 20 individuals). One encounter was with mammal eating male.
Transient (mammal-eating) killer whale male
Most of the animals were unfamiliar to us, but some of them were previously met in Avacha Gulf once or twice. Only one family (AV2) was from the local Avacha Gulf families. We suppose that fish-eating orca families of eastern Kamchatka coast have different patterns of area usage. Probably, different families have different key areas along the coast. So, protection of Avacha Gulf could strongly influence the survival of particular local killer whale families.
We also encountered Baird’s beaked whales, Dall’s porpoises, humpback whales, a fin whale and a pair of gray whales while we were working in Kamchatsky Gulf. We registered underwater sounds of sperm whales almost every working day.
In Avacha Gulf, we worked from 26 July – 5 September. We had 27 encounters with orcas. Among them one was with mammal-eating killer whale group. Other 26 encounters were with fish-eaters. They included 13 local killer whale families and 11 families which visit the Gulf rarely or were never met here before. Three of them were previously encountered near the Commander Islands.
A group of local killer whales in Avacha Gulf
One local family (Pirate’s family) lost the calf which was born in spring 2018. We were following it for two years. The reason of its death is unknown.
Four new calves appeared in four different families (AV113a, AV20c, AV99c, AV191a). We’ve been following the females AV113, AV20, AV99 for more that ten years. All of them were not registered with new calves for more than 10 years. For example, female AV99 was met with a new calf (AV99b) in 2007 but it died by 2008. And now she gave birth for one more calf.
AV113 with her new calf AV113a
AV99 with her new calf AV99c
AV20 with her new calf AV20c
We have analyzed demographic data and found that the birth rates were low and a lot of young animals died in the period between 2006-2016. In recent years the birth rate slightly went up. New calves appeared and some of them survived till 2020.
AV65a1 jumping in front of Green Cape, where our field camp is situated
Another FEROP team worked in the eastern Chukotka (Senyavin Strait) from 18 August – 9 September. There we had two encounters with mammal-eating killer whales. Most of the whales were already familiar to us. In the first encounter, we identified the male ChuT022 and the female ChuT024, that were previously seen together in the same area in 2018. Another female ChuT007 was previously observed in 2015 near a walrus rookery on Koluchin Island. There was also an unknown female with a calf.
In the second encounter, we identified a female ChuT019 and her three offspring – a young male ChuT020, a juvenile ChuT019a and a two-year-old ChuT019b, accompanied by an unknown male. The female ChuT019 and her two older offspring were first encountered in 2017, and in 2018 we saw her with a newborn ChuT019b.
Group of transient (mammal-eating) killer whales in Chukotka