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Chukotka whales need protection and further study

28 september 2021
Scientists of the Faculty of Biology of Moscow State University, with the support of WWF-Russia, continue to study the effect of ship noise on the behavior of gray whales in Chukotka. This year's expedition confirms the need to protect unique marine mammals from the negative impact of ship traffic on the Northern Sea Route.

Cetacean researchers have spent their fifth field season in the Beringia National Park. Traditionally, they monitor humpbacks, killer whales and gray whales in the Senyavin Strait. And last year, a fundamentally new study was launched, the task of which is to assess the behavioral reaction of animals to underwater noise. With the help of an underwater speaker, specialists play the noise and try to understand at what distance the whale begins to actively respond to it. This year, the volume of noises was significantly increased, and accordingly, the reactions of the whales were more pronounced - after the start of the experiment, many animals moved away from the boat, although before that they had been feeding in one place for a long time.

“After stopping the playback, the animals quickly returned to the interrupted type of activity - feeding, - says the leader of the expedition, Doctor of Biology Olga Filatova. - Our experiments are not dangerous for whales - if you distract them from food once a summer, it will not affect their health. But if there is regular ship traffic in the feeding grounds, then constant anxiety and stress can significantly affect the survival and reproduction of these animals."
Olga Filatova / WWF-Russia
“In the conditions of active development of the Northern Sea Route, such studies are extremely important. Traffic is growing every year, so it is necessary to protect areas that are important for cetaceans, to protect animals from disturbance as much as possible, - says Boris Solovyov, senior marine protected areas projects coordinator at WWF-Russia. “Based on the data obtained, we will be able to develop and apply measures to regulate the shipping routes, rules for passage through feeding grounds and approaching cetacean aggregations.”

One of such protective measures could be the creation of the Sirenikovsky reserve along the southeastern coast of Chukotka. The results of the monitoring carried out during the expedition prove that it is an important feeding area for various species of whales (humpback whales, gray whales, minke whales, killer whales), and the creation of a sanctuary can be an important step in protecting whales from anthropogenic influences.

For additional information please contact
Press officer of the Barents project/Barents sea ecoregional program