Spectacular birdlife in Russia's Far East

Sea of Okhotsk & Sakhalin Island

Russian Far East

Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk has been the scene of human misery with its Gulag prisons as well as relentless exploitation of its natural riches. Despite this, remarkable and unique wildlife thrives including spectacular birdlife, seals and bears. This is a truly unique journey 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

  • A rare voyage to a truly remote and newly-opened region
  • Marine mammals such as Ribbon Seals, Steller Sea Lions, Northern Fur Seals.
  • Possible whale sightings of Western Grey whales and orca.
  • Spectacular birdlife with millions of seabirds such as Guillemots, Crested, Parakeets, Least Auklets, Tufted and Horned Puffins and Steller’s Sea Eagles
  • Possible sightings of other local land animals such as brown bears and snow sheep.
  • Visits to remote Russian Far Eastern towns with cultural displays
  • Poignant reminders of the reg

Stewart's Take

A wonderful chance to explore remote places and see endangered wildlife now protected and gaining in numbers such as ribbon seals, ring seals, Steller's sea lions, as well as countless birds.

Overview

Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk has been the scene of human misery with its Gulag prisons as well as relentless exploitation of its natural riches. Despite this, remarkable and unique wildlife thrives including spectacular birdlife, seals and bears. This is a truly unique journey 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.
SEALS, SEABIRDS AND A LEGACY OF SORROW Perhaps no other sea in the world has witnessed as much human suffering and misery as the Sea Okhotsk. Between 1932 and 1953 it is estimated that over 3 million prisoners (the vast majority of them innocent) were transported across the Sea Okhotsk to the Gulags of the Kolyma Goldfields. It is estimated that only five hundred thousand of those prisoners survived to make the journey home. The town and port of Magadan were built to process these prisoners. The upper regions of the Sea of Okhotsk remain frozen for much of the year and winter storms make it an inhospitable place. However the lure of a rich fishery and more recently oil and gas discoveries means this sea is still being exploited, so nothing has changed there. In 1854 no fewer than 160 American and British whaling ships were there, hunting whales. Despite this seemingly relentless exploitation the wildlife thrives, including the beautifully marked and rare Ribbon Seals. On three small islands within this sea hundreds of Steller Sea Lions haul out each year to breed. One of these, Tyulenly Island, also is home to one of the largest concentrations and breeding colonies of Northern Fur Seals in the Russian Far East. 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 massing offshore of an 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's 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 like the Snow Sheep and the Marmot. Day 1: Sakhalin Island, Port of Korsakov This morning we board a coach for transfer to the Port of Korsakov some 40 minutes south of the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk where we will board the Spirit of Enderby. Once on board you will be shown to your cabins and there will be a chance to unpack and explore the vessel. There will be briefings and introductions to the ship, staff and crew after we sail towards the Sea of Okhotsk. Day 2: Tyuleniy Island We 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 we plan a landing here for an opportunity to photograph the seals and sea lions. Day 3: Piltun Bay, Sakhalin Island 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. We go in search of the Gray Whales that live here, travelling by Zodiac inshore to the shallower waters where they are known to feed. Day 4: Iony Island 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. We will Zodiac cruise around the island as Steller Sea Lions occupy the few rocky beaches, making any landing impossible. Days 5 to 6: Shantar Archipelago 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 we can explore here; on the other hand ice increases our chances of seeing some of the seals including Bearded, Ringed, Largha and Ribbon Seals that breed here. If we can land there will be birding, botany and photography excursions led by our team of on board naturalists. Day 7: Mal’minskie Islands 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 we can stretch our legs and explore the taiga forest. Day 8: Okhotsk Town This town has featured in Russian Far East history since the earliest Cossack explorers came from the west. Vitus Bering travelled overland from St Petersburg to Okhotsk in 1725 and again 1733 and travelled to Kamchtka and beyond. Today Okhotsk is the centre of fishing in the region. The port exports significant quantities of salmon and other fish. We visit the town, landing by Zodiac up the river near the town centre. The local people are generous and welcoming and will provide entertainment in the town centre and a cultural display. Day 9: Talan Island 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. We 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. Day 10: Koni Peninsula This is a mountainous region to the south-east 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 our landings are expeditionary, in that although we have landed at a number of places along the coast, many will be new and unknown to us, so we are never quite sure what we will find. That is part of what makes this style of travel so interesting. Day 11: Yamskiye Islands These islands are claimed by some biologists 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. We Zodiac around the coast as no landings are permitted. Day 12: Magadan 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. We plan to arrive here midday where our journey ends. You will be transferred to a central hotel or the airport. Special Pre and Post Cruise Options unique to this expedition. The following excursions are exclusive to this cruise. For more detailed information on the following or other options contact us.
  • Magadan City Tour: Take a half-day guided tour of the city including museum, Mask of Sorrow and enjoy dinner hosted by local family.
  • Kolyma Goldfields and Gulags: A special 4 day tour through the Goldfields and some of the infamous Gulags of the region.
  • Road of Bones: Take this 8 day journey along the road from Magadan to Yakutsk and through it gain a greater understanding of this tragic period in Russia’s history.

Expedition Vessel: M/V Akademik Shokalskiy

expedition ship Akademik Shokalskiy

The Akademik Shokalskiy is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research. This class of vessel is world renowned for polar exploration, because of its strength, maneuverability and small passenger numbers. The Shokalskiy provides comfortable accommodation in double and twin cabins with private facilities. All cabins have outside windows and ample storage space. On board there is a combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room, where the science team and expedition staff will present a programme of talks.

For full information about this vessel click here:

Included Pre/Post cruise transfers, all on board ship accommodation with meals and all expedition shore excursions.
Excluded Extensions, passport, visa, immigration fees, baggage/accident/travel protection plan, items of a personal nature such as bar, e-mail, and laundry. Gratuities to ship's crew at your discretion. Airfares are an additional cost Additional charges: Land Fees $500.00 USD pp
Deposits - Reservations require a deposit of 25% at the time you receive a booking confirmation from Expeditions Online. A payment link will be sent to you and this may be paid by major credit card. Bookings within 90 days of departure require full payment. Final Payments - Balances are due 90 days prior to departure. Cancellations - All requests for cancellation must be received in writing to Expeditions Online. Cancellations received 180 days or more prior to departure, are refunded less a $US750.00 per person administration fee. For cancellations received within 179 and 91 days of the embarkation date the full deposit will be forfeited. If cancellation occurs within 90 days prior to the departure date the total price is forfeited. If cancellation occurs within 90 days and full payment has not yet been received, the total price will still apply and any unpaid monies are due immediately. We strongly recommend that you obtain adequate trip cancellation insurance. Booking Terms - Please read carefully the General Booking Conditions for Expeditions Online. This voyage is operated by Heritage Expeditions and you additionally travel under their terms and conditions as the operator as well as of the Shipping Company/transport carrier. Details will be forwarded to you at the time of booking.
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