Summary : Little known outside of Russia and seldom visited by westerners, Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk dominates the Northwest Pacific. Bound to the north and west by the Russian continent and the Kamchatka Peninsula to the east, with the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin Island guarding the southern border, it is almost landlocked. Its coasts were once home to a number of groups of indigenous people: the Nivkhi, Oroki, Even and Itelmen. Their name for this sea simply translates as something like the "Sea of Hunters" – perhaps an indication about the abundance of wildlife found here. The sea is rich in wildlife and history. Seabird numbers in the Sea of Okhotsk can only be described as spectacular. There are islands like Talan where the sky darkens when the Crested Auklets start amassing offshore for the evening. Other birds include guillemots, puffins, auklets and fulmars. But the richness of birdlife is not restricted to pelagic species. The Sea of Okhotsk has one of the highest concentrations of the majestic Steller Sea Eagle of anywhere in the Russian Far East. Waterfowl are common as are many migratory species. Harder to see but not uncommon on this expedition are the magnificent Kamchatka Brown Bear and other mammals such as the Arctic Ground Squirrel. This is a truly unique journey in that it travels through a little known and seldom visited region. A region with a rich history and very significant and important wildlife values, both terrestrial and marine. There are still discoveries to be made and so for the inquisitive, adventurous and open minded traveller this is a ‘must do' expedition.
Activities : Birding, Culture, Hiking, Kayaking, Triple/Quad Cabins
$6,700 to $10,300
This morning, board a coach for transfer to the Port of Korsakov about 40 minutes south of the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk where you will board the Spirit of Enderby. Once on board you will be shown to your cabins with a chance to unpack and explore the vessel. There will be briefings and introductions to the ship, staff and crew after you sail towards the Sea of Okhotsk.
Visit little known Tyuleniy Island off the south east coast of Sakhalin Island. This small island is a strong hold for Northern Fur Seals and Steller Sea Lions. Fur seal numbers have increased since an International Covention signed in 1911 banned seal hunting here. In the 1990s Steller Sea Lions started breeding on the island and their colony now numbers about 2,500 animals. Sea conditions permitting, plan a landing here for an opportunity to photograph the seals and sea lions.
It was the discovery of oil and gas in this region which put Sakhalin Island on many people’s maps. Piltun Bay is an important habitat for the small population of western Gray Whales. Researchers monitor the population during the summer months. Go in search of the Gray Whales that live here, traveling by Zodiac inshore to the shallower waters where they are known to feed.
Iony Island lies in the middle of the Sea of Okhotsk, it is really just a rock, but what it lacks in physical size it more than makes up for wildlife. Birds appear to take up all available space; there are guillemots, kittiwakes and various species of auklets, with Parakeet, Whiskered and Least being the most prominent. Zodiac cruise around the island as Steller Sea Lions occupy the few rocky beaches, making any landing impossible.
Lying in the western sector of the Sea of Okhotsk close to the continent, the islands in this archipelago are amongst the last place in the Sea of Okhotsk to become ice free each year. This late ice can sometimes restrict how far you can explore here; on the other hand ice increases your chances of seeing some of the seals including Bearded, Ringed, Largha and Ribbon Seals that breed here. If you can land there will be birding, botany and photography excursions led by your team of on board naturalists.
Here there are birds everywhere: in the air, in the water and on the land. Numerous species breed here including large numbers of Spectacled Guillemot. Other species include Ancient Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Parakeet Auklet, Horned and Tufted Puffin, Crested Auklet and both Common and Brunnichs Guillemot. There is also a good population of Steller’s Sea Eagles on the island and on the adjacent mainland. Landing on the island is restricted to a small gravel spit; however on the mainland you can stretch your legs and explore the taiga forest.
This town has featured in Russian Far East history since the earliest Cossack explorers came from the west. Vitus Bering traveled overland from St Petersburg to Okhotsk in 1725 and again 1733 and traveled to Kamchtka and beyond. Today Okhotsk is the center of fishing in the region. The port exports significant quantities of salmon and other fish. Visit the town, landing by Zodiac up the river near the town center. The local people are generous and welcoming and will provide entertainment in the town center and a cultural display.
An internationally known, but very difficult bird island to get to, Talan is infamous largely because of the hundreds of thousands of Crested Auklets that nest there. There are also an extraordinary number of kittiwakes nesting along the cliffs and not surprisingly a large population of Steller’s Sea Eagles. Plan to circumnavigate the island by Zodiac before landing and then return in the late evening to witness the huge flocks of Crested Auklets amassing at sea before coming ashore.
This is a mountainous region to the southeast of the town of Magadan, part of which is included in the Magadanskiy Zapovednik. This reserve protects, among other animals, Brown Bear and Snow Sheep. Many of your landings are expeditionary, with many landings new and unknown to you and the expedition crew, so you are never quite sure what you'll find. That is part of what makes this style of travel so interesting.
Some biologists believe these islands to be the largest bird colony in the North Pacific. According to bird counts, there are an estimated 7 million birds nesting on Matykil Island, the largest in the group. Birds include Common and Brunnichs Guillemot, Crested, Parakeet and Least Auklets, Tufted and Horned Puffins, and Northern Fulmars. The most abundant of these is the Least Auklet. Zodiac cruise around the coast as no landings are permitted.
The name Magadan is synonymous with Stalin’s oppressive Gulags or prisons but there is very little evidence now of this town’s tragic past. The local museum has an excellent display about the Gulags but the most poignant reminder is the ‘Mask of Sorrow’ a large monument on a hill overlooking the town. Today Magadan is a town of about 100,000 people. Fishing is important and gold mining is experiencing a revival. The infamous Kolyma Highway or the ‘Road of Bones’ connects Magadan with Irkutsk and ultimately greater Russia. Plan to arrive here midday where your journey ends. You will be transferred to a central hotel or the airport.
The above itinerary is a guide only, as the exact program depends on weather and ice conditions and the wildlife you encounter. These expeditions are subject to approval from various Russian Federal and Regional Authorities and may have to change depending on these approvals. Permits have been lodged for all the sites mentioned in the itinerary, depending on approvals these may have to be amended or substituted. Flexibility is the key to the success of this expedition. ExpeditionTrips is not responsible for itinerary changes.
Mandatory Travel Insurance:
As a requirement of participation on this tour, all passengers must purchase full medical and emergency evacuation insurance for the specific areas they will be visiting. The minimum coverage requirement is $100,000 for the tour operator's programs. The policy provider, policy number and contact phone number must be provided prior to departure date. We also strongly recommend that all passengers purchase comprehensive travel insurance which would include coverage for cancellation, trip disruption, baggage and personal property. ExpeditionTrips can assist you with this.
Cabin accommodations and meals aboard the ship; onboard lectures and access to public areas; shore excursions as described; services of expedition team; pre- and post-cruise transfers.
Airfare; items of a personal nature such as beverages, laundry, and medical supplies; travel insurance; passport and visa fees; gratuities; landing fees; fuel surcharge may apply.
PHOTOS: © M Kelly; © G Riehle