Why should Shipunsky Peninsula be specially protected?

Why should Shipunsky Peninsula be specially protected?.

27.12.2022

The staff of our Reserve and biologists from the FEROP (Far East Russia Orca Project) announced the results of their joint summer expedition in the coastal waters of the Shipunsky Peninsula. The aim of the research was to collect data on the importance of this area for marine mammals. Scientific research became possible thanks to the support of NOVATEC.

The waters of Eastern Kamchatka are an important habitat for marine mammals. Many of them are listed in the Red Books of the Kamchatka Krai and the Russian Federation, and also in the IUCN Red list. According to the concept of critical habitats for the conservation of pinniped and cetacean populations, it is not necessary to protect the entire areal of a species in order to ensure its well-being. It is enough to identify areas that are most important for animals – usually places of hunting, recreation and reproduction. Huge positive effect for the conservation of the entire population can be achieved by protecting these areas.

One of such important sites for marine mammals in Kamchatka are the waters around the Shipunsky Peninsula. This is due to the abundance of food resources and availability of suitable land plots for rookeries, protected from predators. Seals, sea otters, and porpoises constantly live in this area. The local waters are a home for humpback whales, carnivorous and fish–eating killer whales, and minke whales. In the waters of Shipunsky, you can also see gray whales, fin whales and Japanese smooth whales.

"In the coming years, it is planned to create the Vostochno-Kamchatsky nature reserve in the coastal waters of the Shipunsky Peninsula. The projected protected area is of particular importance for the conservation of populations of red-listed marine mammal species: sea lion, sea otter, antur, carnivorous killer whale, humpback whale. However, relatively little is known about the state of the populations of these species in the area. Our project is aimed at collecting up-to-date data on the importance of the Shipunsky water area for marine mammals. In particular, it is important to assess the species age and gender composition; to determine the number of sea otter, antelope and identify their rookeries; to estimate the number of sea lions in rookeries and the types of cetacean activity," said Evgenia Volkova, marine biologist, researcher at the Kronotsky State Reserve.

In June 2022, during the research, experts made a census of seals and sea otters. To reduce the anxiety of animals, scientists observed them from a boat using binoculars. The shore areas occupied by pinnipeds were photographed for further population calculation and mapped using a GPS navigator. Sea lions in already known rookeries were counted using a quadcopter. Sea otters census was made from a boat observing sections of the water area with depths up to 50 meters, where animals usually feed. Along the way, scientists recorded the reactions of all three species to the presence of humans.

As a result of this scientific field work, 272 individuals were registered in the year–round active sea lion rookeries near the Shipunsky Peninsula: 68 in Zheleznaya Bay and 204 on Shipunsky Stone. Tagged individuals born on the Kozlov Stone in the waters of the Kronotsky Reserve were found in both rookeries.

As for the Shipunsky sea otters, their number amounted to 521 individuals, including 48 females with puppies. This is almost half of the total number of sea otters recorded in 2022 off the coast of Eastern Kamchatka (from m. Kronotsky to M. Senyavina). Scientists suggest that the animals have mastered this habitat due to the deep bays, where favorable environment is formed for various species of invertebrates that the sea otters feed on. Such bays are also nice places of recreation for sea mammals.

Also, during the June accounting, several antur deposits were discovered in the area of the Shipunsky Peninsula, the total number of animals was 77 individuals.

This research confirmed the importance of the Shipunsky Peninsula water area for marine mammals: sea otter, pinnipeds, cetaceans. Here, animals implement behaviors that are critical to their survival. First of all, it is hunting, recreation and reproduction. The data confirm the importance of specially protecting this site. It is also necessary to continue regular monitoring of the state of marine mammal populations in the area.