Tag Archives: Zoya

A second freed captive orca has found her family; updates on the other released Russian whales

Mixed news on the young captive orcas who were released back into the wild in Russia – while a second released orca appears to be traveling with wild killer whales, the group of four seems to have disbanded somewhat. Two of the released belugas are in an area with wild whales.

Zina with wild orcas 9 Sept 2019. Photo Credit: VNIRO

On the plus side, scientists of the All-Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO) and the Institute of Ecology and Evolution Severtsov Russian Academy of Sciences (IPEE RAS) have determined that a second released captive orca is now traveling with wild whales.  From VNIRO:

During monitoring conducted on catamarans in the Shantar Islands, scientists observed a family of wild killer whales off the coast of the South Shantar archipelago. The group had at least 14 killer whales, which they managed to photograph. After a careful analysis of the photographs and their comparison with the photograph and description of animals from Srednyaya Bay, it was noted that one of the killer whales in the group has characteristic scars of the selected mark. Individual signs made it possible to identify this killer whale as Zina, released in the second installment on August 6. The animal got rid of the [satellite tag] that it was set upon release.
“Some killer whales from the wild family in which Zina was met were previously identified, included in photo catalogs and there is biological information on them,” said Vyacheslav Bizikov, deputy director for research at VNIRO. “They are classified as a carnivorous ecotype.”

The first orca who was accepted by a group of wild whales, a young female named Vasilievna, was documented hunting and sharing food with them on August 20th.
With only tracking data, it’s difficult to assess the situation of the group of four (Alexandra, Tikhon, Zoya, and Gayka) who reportedly stayed together for 10 days. The young male, Tikhon, has traveled south either alone or in the company of wild whales. The three females remain in the same general area either together, or within an easy day’s travel distance (approximately 50 miles (80 km) from each other).
Alexandra’s path (green dot with the number 3) coincides with another orca’s track so they may have traveled together at the last location on September 7th.
Because visual documentation hasn’t been reported, all we know for certain is that they are near each other in the same area as wild orcas and appear to be thriving. But that alone is good news!

According to the latest data from satellite tags, killer whales from the third issue of Zoya, Tikhon and Gadget, as well as the younger female Alexander from the second issue, who joined them, moved together for about 10 days. Then the group broke up and now three females Zoya, Gadget and Alexander are located near the island of Feklistov of the Shantar archipelago, the male Tikhon went to the Tugursky Bay.
Killer whales Kharya and Forest, having traveled from Cape Perovsky past Sakhalin Island to the open sea, returned to Sakhalin Gulf.

Forest and Kharya location 9 Sept 2019. Image Credit: VNIRO

Little has been reported on the 12 belugas who were released, but tracking data shows that at least two of them are in the same area as Tikhon:

Two belugas from the fourth issue with [tags] are also located in the Sakhalin Gulf. In this area, scientists and fishermen noted the appearance of wild killer whales and beluga whales. (Press – Service VNIRO).

Location of two belugas 9 Sept 2019.  Image Credit: VNIRO

4 released captive orcas in Russia are hunting together, including little Alexandra

It looks as though Alexandra, the youngest killer whale to be released, has joined three of the other freed orcas in the Shantar Islands area of the Sea of Okhotsk.

Of the 10 killer whales who were returned to the sea where they had been captured, only Alexandra needed initial support following her release.
She had become separated from the other two orcas in her group (Vitas and Nut) and wound up hanging around fishing boats where she was fed. Then she headed over a hundred miles to the north, where she continued to pluck the occasional fish from nets and appeared to hunt successfully on her own.
But what great news; Alexandra has returned south and joined up with Tikhon, Zoya, and Gadget who were released a few weeks after her. If she stays with them, her chances of survival are as high as the others.

Map of locations
Alexandra, Tikhon, Zoya, and Gadget together in the Shantar Islands (Sea of Okhotsk) Image Credit: VNIRO

It’s inspiring to follow these intelligent animals as they adjust to life back in the wild – studies of wild orca populations have shown that their cultures and dialects vary and at this point, we don’t know how those factors play into which whales remain together. Gender, age, personality, food abundance, locating family members, and changing ocean conditions may also contribute to the ultimate success of each whale.
Genetic tests showed that these are mammal-eating type orcas…yet they had been fed fish while they were in captivity. Will they expand their dietary preferences now? Or go back to eating the seals and sea lions of the region exclusively? The winter conditions in that region are challenging, and it is most likely that they will select the more calorie rich mammals, but a lot depends on what they can find.
One of the first released orcas, Vasilyevna, has found a place in a group of wild whales, where she was observed hunting seals and food sharing with others. She was released with Lyokha, but his satellite tag stopped working and there are no reports on his location.
There are no updates as yet on Forest and Kharya, the last to be released.

Freed captive orca Alexandra is thriving, as are 5 of the other young killer whales

Satellite tags on the orcas allow scientists to locate them.

According to the Russian Federal Research Institute Of  Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO),  little Alexandra is thriving. She’s hunting on her own in a biologically rich part of the Sea of Okhotsk, although she occasionally snacks on the buffet offered by fishing nets.

The youngest female Alexandra, released on July 16, has come a long way across the Sea of Okhotsk and is now in the North Okhotsk Sea subzone, about 600 km north of the Shantar Islands.
During her free life, she has eaten fish in fixed nets near Chkalov island, hunted near the Northern shores of Sakhalin, then spent more than a week in the open sea north of Sakhalin, prowling on the migration routes of Pacific salmon.
Then she, at high speed, overcoming more than 100 km per day, which indicates its good physical shape, crossed the Sea of Okhotsk from east to west, and now has come to the fishing areas in the North Okhotsk Sea Subzone.

Because she is hunting in areas of high fish abundance, the scientists believe she may have been misidentified as a mammal-eating type:

In general, the nature of Alexandra’s movements after her release indicates that she consistently checks the main areas of summer fishing in the Sea of Okhotsk. This behavior of Alexandra casts doubt on her belonging to the so-called “carnivorous” ecotype, previously determined on the basis of DNA marker analysis.

Please note, however, that she may be hunting for what she is accustomed to having been fed in captivity. Also, while seals and sea lions are present in the region they are difficult to catch so the possibility that she is genetically a mammal-eating type can’t be ruled out. What we may be witnessing here is an adaptation by an intelligent and sentient species.

 Press Service:

According to the latest data from satellite tags, three orcas – Zoya, Tikhon, and Gayka, released on August 6, are moving towards the Shantar Islands. Being close to the place of release for about a week, the animals actively moved, adapting to the natural habitat conditions, ate fish, which now go to spawn in large shoals in this area. Now the killer whales have left the Sakhalin Gulf and are approaching the Academy Bay.
Two large females from the first and second release groups are located at a distance of 30 km from each other in the Shantar Sea. These are the traditional habitats of wild killer whales. Their families were discovered by VNIRO scientists, who monitored these places from August 8 to 12.

At this time the locations and condition of the other two freed killer whales has not been released. They may have lost their tags or the tags may have failed so it is premature to assume that they have died. For background information, please read “3 more young orcas are on their way to freedom from captivity in Russia, bringing the total freed to 8“.
Sea of Okhotsk Photo Credit: https://vbpr.no/