No to Off-Season!
24 Jan — 2017
No to Off-Season!

The Scientific Department and Ecological Protection Department of the Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve do not stop their activity even for a second during the whole year. Though the main part of our work takes place during the field-season from May to November, when navigation of small vessels is active in the protected water area of the reserve. Our Ecological Monitoring Plan presupposes monitoring of local fauna all year round. And now, in the middle of winter, it’s time to talk about winter monitoring. 

Many bird species and a part of seals, sea lions and cetaceans prefer to leave the Commander Islands for winter. We hardly see many animals in this period of time and it seems, that the boiling pot of animal activity on the islands has gone out. We monitor sea lions, sea otters and northern fur seals only on Severnoye and Severo-Zapadnoye rookeries on Bering Island, because marine navigation for small vessels is banned.

Near Severo-Zapadnoye rookery. Photo by Alexander Sidorov

Near Severo-Zapadnoye rookery. Photo by Alexander Sidorov

During several previous years a number of bull seals and half-bulls (males) of northern fur seals stay on the rookeries, while pregnant females and the majority of males leave for wintering grounds. Sea lions are rare to find – there are few of them, but the numbers are stable throughout the winter and the beginning of spring, till the return of the Commander Islands group to their home-rookeries. In monitoring sea otters we use one of their peculiarities. In winter they prefer to rest on the coast, so monitoring should be made at night or early in the morning, when they are still sleeping. At night they form tight groups, so it is easy to count them.

Monitoring of Phocidae – on the Commander Islands it is mainly the harbor seal and the ringed seal – is organized in places of their traditional concentration: on Severnoye and Severo-Zapadnoye rookeries and on reefs near-by.

Harbor seals on coastal reefs. Photo by Alexander Sidorov

Harbor seals on coastal reefs. Photo by Alexander Sidorov

Monitoring of cetaceans is made from land with field glass or binocular, because it is impossible to go for marine monitoring. To define which species is seen, it is necessary to spot its body form, fluke or blow, as a result of breathing out. The numbers of cetaceans as well as of other animals in the protected water area of the Commander Islands are decreasing in winter, but the majority of species seen in summer can be found here in winter. For on-land monitoring we use special spots and observation points, integrated in the coastline, from which the water area popular with whales can be seen clearly. Obviously, it is possibly only in good weather. Monitoring is impossible in thick fog or strong wind.

Years of practice and good unification make the methods of winter monitoring of the described animals and birds in tundra more efficient. There are several easy rules to make your monitoring safe and fruitful.

Firstly, to be safe we travel around the island in groups no fewer then two people. Regardless, of picturesque landscapes, it is a bed idea to stay alone with the nature. It is highly unsafe to be alone in tundra, especially in winter. The North does not forgive mistakes. We always check all our gadgets and equipment such as binocular, azimuth circle, GPS-navigator and sat-phone. These are the essential things everyone should have during monitoring.

We travel around the island at least in pairs. Photo by Alexander Sidorov

We travel around the island at least in pairs. Photo by Alexander Sidorov

When a researcher or ranger spots an animal, especially those, who prefer to be far from men and vehicles, he should take several pictures, which will be very useful later, and point the location on GPS-navigator to know, where the animal was seen. That is where you need a binocular and an azimuth circle – to calculate the distance and azimuth. These data give us a chance to point a very accurate location. The photos, taken during monitoring, help the scientists to analyze the health of the animals – if the distance was short – and age and gender of a whole group, for example, if speaking about reindeers. The acquired information is used to create a full and vast Chronicle of the Commander Islands Nature and for scientific research.

It is hard to overestimate regular all-year monitoring, made in the framework of the Program for Ecological Monitoring in the protected areas, especially in such remote ones as the Commander Islands. The complex of data about populations, their conditions, age and gender ratio is essential for animal protection and future research.

The Scientific Department and Ecological Protection Department of the Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve do not stop their activity even for a second during the whole year. Though the main part of our work takes place during the field-season from May to November, when navigation of small vessels is active in the protected water area of the reserve, our Ecological Monitoring Plan presupposes monitoring of local fauna all year round. And now, in the middle of winter, it’s time to talk about winter monitoring. Many bird species and a part of seals, sea lions and cetaceans prefer to leave the Commander Islands for winter. We hardly see many animals in this period of time and it seems, that the boiling pot of animal activity on the islands has gone out. We monitor sea lions, sea otters and northern fur seals only on Severnoye and Severo-Zapadnoye rookeries on Bering Island, because marine navigation for small vessels is banned.

Заповедная Россия English

Заповедная Россия English