Gray Whale Monitoring Programme

Every summer, a small group of gray whales feeds on the north-eastern shelf of Sakhalin Island near the Piltun-Astokhskoye Field. Therefore, while conducting offshore operations special mitigation measures are implemented.

Since 1996, Sakhalin Energy jointly with "Exxon Neftegas Limited", the operator of the project "Sakhalin-1", funded monitoring programmes of gray whales.

The companies’ objectives for conducting the joint monitoring programme are to:

  • increase scientific understanding of the Gray Whale aggregation and ecology, and factors that affect the Gray Whale population and habitat;
  • assess condition of the Gray Whale aggregation (e.g., size, growth rate, etc.) and habitat.

The information obtained from the joint programme is used by the companies to:

  • ensure that companies’ activities are conducted in a manner that do not adversely affect the Gray Whale and habitat (per Russian requirements); and
  • identify and implement mitigations that minimise risks of companies’ activities to the Gray Whale and habitat.

The Gray Whales protection plan was developed, implemented, and is regularly updated. Each version of the plan passed an independent examination of the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP), which was established by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2006 on the initiative of Sakhalin Energy.

Special measures of the plan:

  • start of construction operations as early as possible in the summer, before the main feeding period;
  • use of vessels with low noise level;
  • control of vessel speeds and establish special vessel routes, remote from the whale feeding areas;
  • use marine mammal observers on each vessel involved in special activity with the right to stop the operation and movement when animals at a safety zone.

In 2013, the company published the book "Gray whales. The Sakhalin Story", with main information about this protected species of marine mammals.

In 2015, Sakhalin Energy conducted 4D seismic survey in the Piltun-Astokhskoye field. The company jointly with the WGW Advisory Panel has developed measures to mitigate impacts on the gray whales. Safety zone were established around the seismic vessel. Real-time acoustic and visual monitoring was conducted to avoid the impact of noise on gray whales. An independent observer from IUCN was located in a field camp for control of implementation all mitigation measures during the seismic survey.

As a result, not a single case of finding of gray whales in the safety zone from seismic vessel.

All works were completed prior to August 2015, i.e. before arrival most of gray whales on North East Sakhalin feeding areas.