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From Kurils with Love

Did the Kuril seal pups survive?

How an encounter results in a second mission for expedition #withkurilswithlove

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!