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An  action under the IWC/IUCN Conservation Management Plan brings scientists closer to understanding North Pacific gray whales

A new scientific paper in Biology Letters (Mate and colleagues, 2015) documents the results of an IWC coordinated research programme that has enabled scientists to satellite tag and follow gray whales from feeding grounds off Sakhalin Island, Russia.  The tags have recorded the longest known mammal migration: a journey across the North Pacific and down the western coast of North America, as far as breeding grounds in Mexico.

The research relates to a priority action in the IWC/IUCN Conservation Management Plan (CMP) for the western North Pacific gray whale. The CMP aims to understand and mitigate the threats facing the small (less than 200) feeding group off Sakhalin Island that is classified as critically endangered by IUCN.  At the 2014 meeting of the IWC, a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed by Russia, Japan and the USA, committing to collaborate in conservation and research measures, and other range states have expressed an interest in combining efforts.

It had long been believed that the gray whales feeding in Sakhalin migrated south down the Asian coast in the western Pacific.  The telemetry results prove that some animals travel from west to east across the North Pacific before moving south.

The results of this research inspired an IWC-recommended programme to examine other sources of information (such as photo-identification catalogues).  This work will be brought these together in a major review of gray whales throughout the the North Pacific to investigate the conservation and management implications of the new information.  An IWC workshop took place in April 2014.  A follow-up workshop has just been held and the results will be discussed at the 2015 Scientific Committee meeting in May.

The research was conducted by a team of scientists from Russia and the USA, under the auspices of the IWC, and funded by voluntary contributions from Exxon Neftegas Limited, the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company, the US Office of Naval Research and the Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute.

For more information about gray whales click here.

To read Oregon State University’s press release about the latest research click here.