Did the Kuril seal pups survive?

Whether the unexpected encounter with Dr. Vladimir Burkanov is a case of synchronicity we can debate, but for our #fromkurilswithlove expedition team it is without a doubt a meaningful coincidence.


Burkanov is co-founder of and Chief Scientist at North Pacific Wildlife Consulting (NPWC) and needed a lift to his HD camera traps around the Kurils and to Raikoke, the volcanic island near the center of the Kuril Islands where he observes a seal population.

After the enormous eruption of Raikoke volcano on 22 June 2019, he fears that the seal pups suffered a great deal. Our vessel is the only one going in the right direction, therefore – besides raising awareness about this remarkable place that deserves protection – our expedition team has added another mission: bringing Vladimir to Raikoke to find out what has happened to his seal pups.

Raikoke shortly after the eruption. The island used to be lush and green.

Vladimir’s areas of expertise include ecology and conservation of marine mammals in the Far-East Seas of Russia and the North Pacific. Hence his interest and scientific investigations in the marine mammals that inhabit the waters and coastal areas of the Kuril islands. For his research he earlier placed several HD camera traps to observe the seal population on Raikoke.

Say cheese

Today’s camera traps sense warm moving objects, like animals, through a connected infrared sensor. They can be left on the spot to observe an area for weeks or even months, to record all activity of animals. With the data scientists are able to identify whole communities of species, how they are structured and interact. Plus, they are ‘wildlife’ friendly, so not bothering the animals in any way.

Although no human beings were hurt in Raikoke’s eruption – the island is uninhabited – the wildlife, like the seal pup population, was most likely not so lucky. An island that was once lush and green, is now a big rock covered with ash. At first sight no seal rookeries were to be seen, but Vladimir and the team will take a closer look today.

Volcano roaring back to life

Raikoke 22 days after the eruption.

One might think what an unfortunate habitat to raise your seal pups, why-oh-why chose that location. However, unlike other volcanoes in the region, Raikoke seldom erupts. The last time the volcano erupted was in 1924 – after 146 years of no activity. Last June, 95 years later, it roared back to life sending a plum of ash up to 17 km high. The latter was observed and captured by several satellites as well as astronauts on the international Space Station, resulting in some dramatic photos and videos.

Curious about Raikoke’s seal population and what Vladimir will find at island? Follow the expedition #fromkurilswithlove and find out!

 

Drones in the Wild

What’s becoming quite obvious is how, constantly close to the edge, we are of losing the technology we depend on to not only document #FromKurilsWithLove, but also to share the story as it unfolds with the world. The dependency is as tangible as its nerve wrecking. Being on a boat and near water almost constantly, while pushing the limits of the technology that is being used – even the smallest mistake can mean loss of production gear, which is replaceable, but what’s worse: losing an important part of the story.


Yesterday the team was in a constant state of awe for the beauty that presented itself before them – Onekotan showed off, and we were there to capture it, and it put the drones to the test… first casualty came early in the morning under relatively non-dramatic circumstances.

The second one added some drama:

…standing at the rim next to the Krenitsena volcano, we lost contact with one of the drones, with a memory card full of epic footage. This part of the caldera is covered in almost impenetrable waist-high bush, losing contact with a drone that is 1500m away from your position, as the darkness sets in, is literally like finding a needle in a haystack. Renan, Chris, Ryan and Ted spent hours looking for it, before finally realizing that it had dropped beyond the rim, several hundred meters below their location.

Attempting to reach it was not only risky in itself, adding the isolation of these islands would mean official rescue would not be an option, if something were to go wrong. These are the options that need to be weighed into every decision, even if every instinct tells you to retrieve – and in this case it meant we lost a valuable piece of storytelling equipment.

Drones in the Wind


There are some elite drone filmographers on our ship. Renan Ozturk, Chris Burkard, Taylor Rees, Ryan Hill, Jeff Kerby – they let drones fly around us, above us without a break. While flying them is hard enough, landing is an even bigger challenge.

The Kuril Islands are windy. Really windy. All of a sudden, a strong gust might take control of the drone.

So, here you see Renan and Taylor, shaken by the rolling of the boat, trying to get one of their drones safely home. You can see Taylor’s relief at the end of the video.

The team lost drones on Onekotan the other day – but we will tell that in another story.

Digital Nomads

Home is where the Wifi is!

Everybody needs a home. Most people would agree with that. Homelessness is amongst the worst turns a life could take for many. And yet – the definition of home changes. In a time of increasing mobility demands, many of us see their home a temporary place, until the next home.


Same for our work life. Not only are we changing jobs often, but we also do not necessarily need a workplace anymore. Shared workspaces are skyrocketing, in a city like London, you can barely walk three blocks without seeing one. All many of us seem to need are a table, Wifi and a mobile phone.

This new mobility is liberating for some, stressful for others. And then there are those, for whom this opens up the opportunity for a completely new lifestyle. If my workplace is mobile, can my home also be mobile?

New media channels also create new forms of income opportunities. Who would have thought ten years ago that influencer would be a proper job today? That may get you much more money than a traditional job? How would it have been possible for extreme climbers, kayakers, base jumpers to earn their living from their passion, before Red Bull and GoPro and so many others discovered this field as a marketing playground and kicked off a never-ending wave of exciting extreme sports content?

In our “Nomads” section, we are portraying people whose lives changed through the mobility opportunities they got. People who are living a lifestyle unknown 15 years ago. We discuss what this digital nomadism, in all its forms, creates: opportunities? New dependencies? Challenges for social life? Total freedom?

Guardians of our Connected Lifestyle

Everything that is connected to the internet can be hacked. Social media have become a battleground for political influencing and populism. Fake news are everywhere. Digital freedom is under scrutiny. Artificial Intelligence is out of control. Big tech companies own the world.

That all sounds dire.


And while it all is partially true, it also isn’t. As with everything in life: when humans interact, there will be frictions. Not everybody has good intentions. So we have to be vigilant, and we need guardians, protectors, heroes or just ordinary people with a good sense for what is right or wrong.

The smallest things can have a massive impact. A young man registers a domain and shuts down a global cyber attack. A sports star kneels and provokes a national discussion about values. A power outage in the middle of nowhere disconnects millions of people from the internet – and an electrician saves the day. A retired policeman stops someone from taking money from an ATM and thus delivers the crucial clue to halt a global ring of digital bank robbers.

We all can be heroes and can be forgotten the next day. This section tells stories of average people saving our digital world. By creating policies, by maintaining infrastructure, by stopping criminals and by protecting children. These are stories of you and me — the real heroes of today – the guardians of the digital world.

Ryan Hill

Born in the Central Valley of California, raised partially on the coast of South Africa and finding a long term home on the Central Coast of California Ryan’s upbringing was anything but “normal”. Shortly after graduating college from CalPoly San Luis Obispo Ryan found himself employed full time with adventure photographer Chris Burkard as his photo editor, 1st assistant, and then studio manager. Over the last 3 years Ryan has worked beside Burkard on shoots for Coors Light, AirBnB, The North Face, Prana, FitBit, Travel Lodge, The Surfers Journal, & Cliff Bar.


Ryan “Wez” Hill on Instagram: “I picked up a camera 7 years ago to shoot my friends and my life so I could help myself fill in the gaps where my memory failed. _ I’ve…”

The Kuril Expedition: Why and how?

In April 2018, Felicity Aston, an accomplished explorer and adventurer, assembled a group of 11 European and Arabic women to march to the North Pole together. Besides the adventure, it was a march for peace and cross-cultural understanding and collaboration.

The project attracted the interest of software entrepreneur Eugene Kaspersky, who decided to finance the expedition as the main sponsor, having supported Felicity on a South Pole expedition in the past. Extreme photographer Renan Ozturk joined to capture some of the moments before the group left in stunning photography and through powerful storytelling. An adventurer, expedition climber and explorer himself, the idea of the project fascinated him.


Euro-Arab Northpole Exped 2018 on Instagram: “Smiles kept us going! #motivation #smile #thisgirlcan #northpole”

A conversation in Svalbard prior to the expedition take-off suddenly focused on the Kuril Islands. With some islands virtually untouched by modern human civilisation and others featuring impressive rock formations with potential for first ascents – each contributing to a unique and beautiful landscape – the first seed for a future expedition had been set.

Instagram post shared by @renan_ozturk

Renan Ozturk on Instagram: “Words by @taylorfreesolo // The origin story of #fromKurilswithLove and our rag tag crew of vagabonds began when @renan_ozturk was…”

“We want to show the beauty, but also the fragility of this remote strip of land”, says Renan. “But to cut through the noise and create an impact in public awareness, we can’t just go on a boat and take beautiful pictures and hope a few media would cover it. So we put together a group of filmmakers, photographers and environmentalists, to make a meaningful representation of this place with wide reach. And we will produce a documentary about it all, including first ascent climbing and true boots on the ground exploration, as that is the kind of content that really creates awareness these days.”

Instagram post shared by @tomorrow_unlocked

Tomorrow Unlocked on Instagram: “The significance of this rock formation and Ushishir Island as a whole, in the context of the #fromkurilswithlove expedition is major. In…”

15 months of intense planning and logistical ninja moves later, the expedition is about to start. With a high calibre team of film makers, photographers, science communicators and athletes we will document the beauty of the Kurils, shine a light on some of the environmental challenges in the region, and explore in the purest form of the word; though observation. On the 7 July the adventure begins: documenting one of the most remote islands chains in the world: the Kuril Islands in the sea of Okhotsk.

It is one of the least explored regions on Earth and yet one that is endangered by over-fishing, ocean pollution and other environmental threats.

They will leave from the Kamchatka coast on the 7th July and are planning to be out there for 12 days. Weather will play a big role in determining what they will achieve. With an oceanographer, environmentalists, photographers and film makers on board, everyone has their own objective. And yet, all the expedition members have one thing in common: they want to help bring attention to a nearly forgotten, outstanding part of the earth which needs support to stay as unique as it is today.

The Crew

Renan Ozturk

Renan Ozturk on Instagram: “Phone photo from the way down. We saw the beauty and the beast on Everest this season. And as our team ran sweep as the only ones on the…”

Renan Ozturk on Instagram: “Phone photo from the way down. We saw the beauty and the beast on Everest this season. And as our team ran sweep as the only ones on the…”

ChrisBurkard on Instagram: “When it comes to the camera, Dynamic Range is the truly the most important feature I look for. At 14 stops of dynamic range you have the…”

Eugene Kaspersky ⚕️ on Instagram: “3-DAY TREKKING AROUND ANTISANA VOLCANO. SEE BELOW. . Я люблю погулять по просторам нашей планеты. Хоть пару-тройку деньков, но походить по…”

Taylor Rees on Instagram: “How unbelievably hard is it to talk about the environment and about being human when we constantly feel wrong? When we are worried about…”

Ted Hesser on Instagram: “Off to Chile today to shoot the next Solar Eclipse in a few days! Hoping the sky’s stay clear and we find a bit of good fortune as we did a…”

Jeff Kerby on Instagram: “Escaping the Permafrost // Even the Arctic gets warm in the summer, so over a century ago whalers blasted huge storage lockers into…”

Rishi Sugla on Instagram: “Salt flats, sunglasses, smiles #argentina #salt #sun #outdoors #itwascold #andhottoo #weate #empanadas #environment #nature #love #travel…”

Ryan “Wez” Hill on Instagram: “It’s wild to think where life has taken me this last year. Beyond grateful to be able to experience so much and get to call it work.…”

@povel on Instagram: “Le jour finalement, ne plus de baguette au neige 🙁 #chamonix”

Ted Hesser

Ted is a freelance adventure photographer, focusing on rock climbing and alpinism. His work has been published by National Geographic Online, Outside Magazine, Rock and Ice Magazine, The Alpinist Magazine, Escalando climbing magazine and various others.


Ted Hesser on Instagram: “Claude, our home on wheels, has been on an Odyssey of late. And so have I. • What began as a check engine light, has cascaded into 3 weeks…”

Ted has worked on assignment for The North Face, covering some of the company’s highest profile expeditions in Nepal, Angola and Kenya. He shoots TNF’s athlete summits each year. Ted also works closely with Black Diamond Ltd, shooting commercial photo and video projects throughout the year. He is an official ambassador for Goalzero and Boulder Denim. Other clients have
included Columbia Sportswear, DJI, Travel Alberta, Destination BC, ReelRock Films, Royal Robbins, ThermaRest, Cascade Designs, Utah Tourism, Feathered Friends & La Sportiva.

Ted Hesser on Instagram: “Sometimes I worry and overthink everything too much. I get caught up in the headline news, and the intellectual concerns of our times.…”

Prior to focusing full-time on photography, Ted worked for nearly a decade in the clean energy industry. He received a masters degree in renewable energy engineering from Stanford University, and a bachelors degree in Physics from Colorado College.

Chris Burkard

Chris Burkard is an accomplished explorer, photographer, creative director, speaker,
and author. Traveling throughout the year to pursue the farthest expanses of Earth,
Burkard works to capture stories that inspire humans to consider their relationship with
nature, while promoting the preservation of wild places everywhere.


ChrisBurkard on Instagram: “In the Bible of stoke there is a verse about this.”

Layered by outdoor, travel, adventure, surf, and lifestyle subjects, Burkard is known for

images that are punctuated by untamed, energized landscapes and peak moments of
adventure. He has accumulated an audience of over one million followers to become a
globally recognized social influencer.

ChrisBurkard on Instagram: “Is there a more beautiful display of the Earth’s beating heart than the Grand Prismatic Spring from above? . This was taken a few years ago…”

Burkard is often central in synthesizing the creative projects he is involved in, across
stakeholders. His holistic and visionary perspective has earned him opportunities to
work on global, prominent campaigns with Fortune 500 clients, appear as a TED
speaker, develop specialty product lines, teach national and international photography
workshops and publish a collection of books, including a children’s book. Along with his
team, Burkard is based out of his full-scale production studio and art gallery near his
hometown in Central Coast California.

At the age of 30, Burkard has established himself as a global presence and influencer,
accomplishing a prolific portfolio, connecting people from around the world and
producing some of the most recognized creative work of our time.