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Far East Russia Orca Project expedition 2002

In 2002 the expedition consisted of two parts. In July we on the vessel "Avachinsky" cruised along the eastern coast of Kamchatka from Olutorsky Bay to Lopatka cape, conducting by transect method the registration of all cetaceans that we met. On July 18 we have started from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and went directly to the north, because in Avacha Bay we met the cyclone which created some difficulties in our work and problems for some participants of expedition who were not customary to marine swinging. Two days later we were already in Olutorsky Bay, where we found a fine silent weather and first good luck - during the first watch the observers have noted several humpback whales. The next watch was less lucky: they saw only Dall's porpoises and minke whales. The next evening we met first killer whales - three males were moving towards to the ship, and two of them had collapsed dorsal fins. This strange group was not eager to interact with our boat - so, that we hardly have caught up them to photograph.
The next day, which we met already in Korfa Bay, proved to be more successful. At ten o'clock in the morning the ship was alarmed by observer's cry: "Orcas!" While the boat was working with this group, observers have found another one at the other side of the ship. This group was rather big, but we also had to run after them, because animals were widely spread and divided on several subgroups.

On July 24 we were in Karaginsky Bay. Here we apparently have found a favourite feeding place of big whales - during a small time interval we met several humpback whales, and later some gray whales. These encounters caused a great delight not only in observers, but also in a part of ship crew. As soon as the next whale was detected and the ship slowed to approach to it more closely, the observers and crew together run to the bow of the ship with cameras and binoculars.

During four days weather favoured to observations, and we have worked with some more groups of orcas before in a southern part of Ozernoy Bay we were covered by the cyclone. We passed Cape Africa in a thick fog, and farther up to Avachinsky Bay weather was not much better, so the next orca group we met only near our island. The group has appeared to be familiar to us - we met it for several times last year, and Hal Sato even gave it the serial number KB. This time our orcas were in the company of one or two more groups, unfamiliar to us, and behaved themselves very actively: flapped by tails, jumped out the water, and, that was especially pleasant, almost did not pay attention to our boat, that has allowed us swiftly photograph them and return to the ship to move further to the south. In the evening of this day "Avachinsky" arrived to Russkaya Bay to supply reserves of fresh water, and we were permitted to go to the shore and to visit a small mountain lake.

On the first of August we again have met group near Kekurny Cape - it seemed that these orcas followed us. They were again in the company of several other groups, and we have spent a lot of time trying to understand, which whales concerned to what group. This day appeared for us to be the last working day on the ship, because in the evening we again were covered by the fog. We have reached Lopatka Cape - southern edge of Kamchatka peninsula - and have turned, being not able to see it through the fog.

On the fourth of August "Avachinsky" set us ashore at Starichkov island, where, after repairing our cabin, we continued our long-term field work with the resident orcas we have come to know. Our land-observers used a theodolite this year to measure the exact distance to the whales and to fix their movements along the surface.

On the first day we met the new group which has received the number 0209. We spent with these whales several hours, slowly moving on some distance from animals, which during all this time were feeding near the island. Next three days and some more times during the season we again met this group near our island. We have also met some groups familiar to us by the previous seasons. One of them - 0128 - once made a special performance to us - several whales jumped out of water for near the twenty times close to our boat.

Several times we also watched another remarkable phenomena - interactions between orcas and Dall's porpoises. Porpoises seemed not to be afraid of their huge congeners, and sometimes even specially follow them and turn around. Unfortunately, we know nothing about what are they doing underwater, and we can only guess whether do the hunting together, or just play. Probably in future by means of advanced modern technique for underwater observations we will be able to answer this and many other questions.



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