Date of this Version
A collaborative Russia-U.S. research program on western gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) summering off northeastern Sakhalin Island, Russia, has been ongoing since 1995 and has produced important information on the present day conservation status of this critically endangered population. This paper reviews findings from 2008 research activities and combines such with data from previous years, in some cases ranging back to an opportunistic survey in 1994. Photo-identification research conducted off Sakhalin Island in 2008 resulted in the identification of 45 whales, including three calves. No previously unidentified non-calves were observed. When combined with data from 1994-2007, a catalog of 172 photo-identified individuals has been compiled. Not all of these 172 whales can be assumed to be alive, however. One new reproductive female was recorded in 2008, resulting in a minimum of 25 reproductive females being observed since 1995. In addition to a number of biological difficulties that western gray whales are facing, the large-scale offshore oil and gas development programs near their summer feeding ground, as well as fatal net entrapments off Japan during migration, pose significant threats to the future survival of the population.