In response to widespread concerns about the critically endangered western gray whale, and at the request of Sakhalin Energy Investment Company Ltd (Sakhalin Energy1), in 2004 IUCN convened an Independent Scientific Review Panel to evaluate the company’s planned approach for minimizing the impacts of construction activities in the vicinity of Sakhalin Island, Russia, during the 2005 open-water season.

In 2006, again at the request of Sakhalin Energy, IUCN convened the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP) to advise the company on a more regular basis and thus strengthen its monitoring and mitigation efforts. The panel was convened for an initial period of 5 years. In 2011 the contract was extended for another 5-year period, until 2016.

Highlights of the collaboration:

  • In 2005, Sakhalin Energy revised its operation and construction plans to reduce risks to the whales. For example, underwater pipelines were re-routed to avoid feeding areas, a decision that required 180 km of additional pipeline.
  • Through a WGWAP task force, researchers working for oil and gas companies and independent scientists agreed to share certain kinds of data. This has allowed the standardization and cross-verification of photo-identification databases as well as a joint population analysis to estimate abundance and trends.
  • Over the years, Sakhalin Energy has integrated more robust scientific research and monitoring elements into its annual work programme following discussions with WGWAP.
  • Measures to monitor and minimize the impacts of a seismic survey on western gray whales were developed collaboratively by the WGWAP and Sakhalin Energy, and were put in place by the company in 2010. For example, safety buffers were set up around the survey vessel and real-time acoustic and visual monitoring prevented exposure of whales to damaging doses of noise.
  • A globally authoritative and credible mechanism has been established linking independent scientists, the private sector, governments, financial institutions and NGOs. This has led to conservation actions based on open, structured dialogue amongst parties.

1 Sakhalin Energy Investment Company Ltd is an oil & gas consortium comprising Gazprom, Shell, Mitsui and Mitsubishi.