acquired September 30, 2014

Russia’s Bay of Whales



If you are in the market for a molting whale epidermis, Russia’s Ulbanskiy Bay might be a good place to search for one. The area is mostly uninhabited by humans, but it does support sizable numbers of whales, whose cast-off skins have been spotted in these Siberian waters by scientists.

In summertime, this bay becomes a feeding ground for bowhead whales, as well as belugas and orcas.

Beluga whales come to Ulbanskiy for the seafood buffet; they hunt by driving fish like herring and smelt toward the coast and into freshwater inlets. Some whales begin to enter Ulbanskiy Bay as early as May, when the winter fast ice begins to break up. Their numbers swell in late July, and aerial surveys have observed upwards of 1,200 of them here in August, when food is plentiful. Occasionally when predatory orcas approach, belugas swim close to the shore for protection. With the arrival of fall, new ice forms in the bay, and the whales head out to open waters.

Despite this abundant underwater activity, the bay’s waters appear serene from space. The image above was acquired on September 30, 2014, by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite.

Freshwater streams meander into marshlands and gently sloped mud flats. Ground photography shows that further inland, the incline becomes steeper, with darker green, pine-covered slopes. A lighter green band on the left side of the image indicates deciduous (leaf-shedding) trees that have begun to turn color. The marshes around the bay are dotted with small bodies of water—likely thermokarst lakes.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Story by Pola Lem.