The sea of Okhotsk in the Russian Far East

Expedition cruise: the Sea of Okhotsk – June 25 to July 6, 2019

Voyage and expedition cruise to the Sea of Okhotsk Expedition cruise on board the vessel Spirit of Enderby

Size of the group: 48 expeditioners maximum

Duration: 11 nights/12 days

The ship in details…

Expedition cruise basics…

At the far East of Russia just North of Japan, lies the 1,6 million square meter of the Sea of Okhotsk, borded by the Kuril Islands, the Kamchatka peninsula and the coast of Siberia. The upper regions of the Sea of Okhotsk remain frozen for much of the year and winter storms make it an inhospitable place. 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.


PROGRAM AND ITINERARY:

About the program and itinerary…

Day 1: Sakhalin Island, Port of Korsakov
This morning you will board a coach for transfer to the Port of Korsakov some 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 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 you sail towards the Sea of Okhotsk.

Day 2: Tyuleniy Island
You 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. Sea conditions permitting you will land here for an opportunity to photograph the seals and sea lions.

Day 3: Piltun Bay, Sakhalin Island
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 Islands
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. You will Zodiac cruise around the island as Steller Sea Lions occupy the few rocky beaches, making any landing impossible.

Days 5 and 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 you 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 a landing is possible there will be birding, botany and photography excursions.

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 you can stretch your legs and explore the taiga forest.

Day 8: Okhotsk
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 Kamchatka and beyond. Today Okhotsk is the centre of fishing in the region. The port exports significant quantities of salmon and other fish. You 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. The plan is 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. This reserve protects among other animals Brown Bear and Snow Sheep. Many of the landings are expeditionary, in that although the staff has landed at a number of places along the coast, many will be new and unknown, so you are never quite sure what you will find. That is part of what makes this style of travel so interesting.

Day 12: 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. You will 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. The infamous Kolyma Highway or the “Road of Bones” connects Magadan with Irkutsk and ultimately greater Russia. The plan is to arrive here midday where your journey ends. You will be transferred to a central hotel or the airport.

Map of the itinerary of the voyage and expedition cruise to the Sea of Okhotsk in the Russian Far East


PRICES (per person):

– Main deck triple: $7035 USD
– Main deck: $8200 USD
– Superior: $8715 USD
– Superior Plus: $9450 USD
– Mini suite: $9870 USD
– Heritage Suite: $10815 USD

Additional charges: local payment $500 USD pp

Prices include: pre/post cruise transfers, all on board ship accommodation with meals and all expedition shore excursions.

Prices do not include: all items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas and travel insurance.

The ship in details…


OUR OPINION ON THIS VOYAGE:

There is only one expedition cruise in the Sea of Okhotsk every year, it’s this one ! 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.

☞ Interest of this trip: wildlife (millions of birds (!), marine mammals, brown bears…), taïga forest, sea ice, historical sites of the USSR, landscapes…