News Release

International scientists track endangered whale to discover breeding grounds

06 December 2010
Western Gray Whale breaching. Photo © David Weller

A team of scientists from Russia and the United States has successfully tagged and is tracking by satellite an individual from one of the world’s most endangered whale populations – a western gray whale - off the coast of Russia’s Sakhalin Island. IUCN has been involved in the tagging and tracking process, providing scientific advice and logistical support.

There are only about 130 western gray whales left. The species is listed as Critically Endangered on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, with perhaps only about 33 mature and reproductively active females. Their feeding grounds in the Russian Far East are known but details of their migration routes and breeding grounds are not.

This is the first time an individual from the western gray whale population has been tagged and tracked using telemetry. “Tremendous care was taken to select a healthy adult male,” says Greg Donovan, Head of Science for the International Whaling Commission (IWC), based in Cambridge, who co-ordinated the project. “Although the risks associated with such tagging are minimal, we wanted to take absolutely no chances with females or young animals. The information we expect to get from this study is vital to international conservation efforts to preserve this population, as is the collaboration between governments, international organisations, international scientists, industry and other stakeholders.”

The tagged whale, known as ‘Flex’, has been seen regularly in the Sakhalin area in summer since it was photographed as a calf in 1997. The team has been following its movements via satellite with data beamed from the transmitting tag.

 

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