Gazprom Neft has completed ecological monitoring of grey whale populations at the Ayashsky license block, offshore from Sakhalin Island, with expedition members registering more than 550 animals in the course of a five-month survey.
The ecological monitoring of grey whales in the Sea of Okhotsk forms part of a joint programme being implemented by oil and gas companies operating in Sakhalin. Gazprom Neft joined the programme in 2017, on starting development of its Ayashsky license block.
Researchers conducted 58 sorties on the Siem Sapphire support vessel between June and October, obtaining more than 30,000 photographs — all of them taken from a special high-speed boat, involving the use of professional equipment at a distance of 600–800 metres from the whales, thus not disturbing the animals.
Photographs and research materials help keep tabs on individual animals living within the monitoring area. At the end of each expedition images are passed to the A.V. Zhirmunsky National Scientific Centre for Marine Biology (part of the Far East branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences). Here, the best shots are selected for cataloguing, with a chronology of each encounter with a whale maintained. Whales can be identified from the pattern of white spots on their tails, in a similar way to human fingerprints. This photographic evidence makes it possible to monitor any changes in the whale — the animal’s skin can indicate its health and age.
During the expedition researchers also obtained data on the distribution of underwater acoustic waves — something that will help reduce industrial impacts on whale habitats. Gazprom Neft is already using low-volume vessels in areas where whales congregate, limiting vessel speeds and selecting routes away from mammal feeding grounds.
«Environmental protection and responsible resources management are key priorities in our company’s business. We joined the grey whale monitoring programme immediately on starting operations at the Ayashsky license block, and use the most modern vessels and equipment here. This is one of the most wide-ranging ecology programmes in the industry, and is a prime example of effective collaboration between oil and gas companies in conserving wildlife. Observations show the Okhostk—Korean grey whale population — which was, quite recently, on the point of extinction — is now increasing. Monitoring is giving us the opportunity to learn more about these rare mammals, and to make our own contribution to ensuring environmental well-being on the Sakhalin Island continental shelf».Alexander Korobkov General Director, Gazpromneft-Sakhalin
Oil and gas companies operating in Sakhalin, together with experts from leading Russian scientific and research institutes, are involved in a joint programme monitoring grey whales and their habitations offshore in the Sea of Okhotsk. The programme includes four key research areas: photo-identification of grey whales; investigations into their distribution in feeding areas; investigations into the benthos (seabed flora and fauna) on which they subsist; and acoustic monitoring of unatural and man-made underwater noise. The programme has helped secure information that is now helping the conservation of grey whales and their habitats, as well as helping companies minimise potential production-related impacts on them. The number of grey whales offshore from the north—east of Sakhalin Island has been increasing every year following discoveries in the early 1980s, when their population numbered around 20.
The Ayashsky license block in the Sea of Okhotsk is located 55 kilometres offshore from Sakhalin Island, in the north—east of the island’s continental shelf, where sea depths can reach up to 90 metres. The Neptune field (with reserves in place of 415 million tonnes (mt) of oil) was discovered in 2017, and the Triton field (with reserves in place of 137 mt) in 2018.
Gazpromneft-Sakhalin is a subsidiary of Gazprom Neft. The company is primarily engaged in the exploration and development of offshore oil and gas fields. The company is operator of the Dolginskoye oil field, the North-West block of the Pechora Sea, the Kheisovsky block in the Barents Sea, the Severo-Vrangelevsky block, and the Ayashsky block in the Sea of Okhotsk.