In the language of its indigenous people, the Sea of Okhotsk translates as something like the ‘Sea of Hunters’ or ‘Hunters Sea’. It’s our first indication of the abundance of wildlife in the region. And despite the hunting that has gone on over the years, this sea remains one of the richest in the world – but there is so little known about it. To our knowledge, this is only the second expedition of its kind to visit the region: the freshwaters of the Amur River flow into the vast, naturally-sheltered sea and freeze into ice-floes that make it impassable for much of the year.
Dominating the Northwest Pacific, the sea is bounded to the north and west by the Russian continent and the Kamchatka Peninsula to the east, while the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin Island guard its southern border. Its coasts were home to a number of indigenous peoples: the Nivikh, Oroki and the Even - mostly now displaced by the advance of the modern world, though descendants can still be found practising a way of life handed down by their ancestors.
The great 17th century explorer Vitus Bering launched two expeditions from the town of Okhotsk which he established on the western shores of the sea in order to explore the coasts of the Russian Empire. The town remains to this day, seemingly frozen in time. Our expedition also visits the town of Magadan, once upon a time the gateway to the Kolyma Goldfields. Thousands of political prisoners were shipped here under Stalin’s regime to work in the mines. Many never made it back from the infamous Gulags, succumbing to brutal treatment and the bitterly cold winters of the region.
And man’s treatment of the region’s wildlife wasn’t much better: in 1854 no fewer than 160 American and British whaling ships were here, hunting the Bowhead Whale. Hunted almost to extinction, whales are now returning to the Sea of Okhotsk and it is possible to see a number of species including a rare western population of the Grey Whale, plus Bowhead Whales. The beautiful and rare Ribbon Seal may also be found, shambling on craggy rocks, as can Steller’s Sea Lions and Northern Fur Seals.
On Talan Island we visit a huge colony of Tufted Puffins and on the cliffs tumbling round the back of forgotten islands, we’ll find thousands of seabirds. Millions more breed on the islands scattered across the sea. Soaring above the archipelagos are the huge and beautiful Steller’s Sea Eagle. But birds compose only part of the rich wildlife tapestry of the region. We will see rivers churning with salmon as they roar through taiga forests, wild hills roamed by Wolves, Big Horned Sheep, Arctic Fox and, with luck, we’ll catch sight of the mighty Kamchatka Brown Bear. Our expedition will unlock many secrets of this virtually unexplored region.
$500.00 USD pp
Sea of Okhotsk itinerary:
Day 1: Sakhalin Island
Arrive on Sakhalin Island and spend the night at a hotel in the nearby town of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. We will send you the hotel vouchers prior to your departure and can also arrange transfers from the airport to the hotel.
If you require any additional pre-cruise accommodation or activities please contact us as we can, for example, arrange birding excursions on Sakhalin to look for various species that you are unlikely to see on the main voyage, including the endemic Sakhalin Warbler and Sakhalin Leaf-Warbler.
For those with time to explore, the nearby Gagarin Park, only a few minutes walk from our hotel offers some excellent birding.
During the evening, members of the Expedition Team will be at the hotel to meet you and answer any questions.
Day 2: Depart and at Sea
After breakfast a coach will transfer you to the Port of Korsakov (approximately 40 minute journey) where you will meet the rest of the Expedition Team and be welcomed on board the Spirit of Enderby.
After departing there will be a number of introductions and briefings.
As we cruise southeast across the Sea of Okhotsk our first seabirds could well include Tufted Puffin, Ancient Murrelet, Pelagic Cormorant, Black-tailed Gull and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel. We are also likely to see huge flocks of Short-tailed Shearwaters as almost the entire world population of this long-distance migrant moult in these waters.
We also should start to encounter our first cetaceans of the voyage and these could include Dall’s Porpoise, Northern Minke Whale and Orca (Killer Whale).
Day 3: Tuleniy Island
A tiny island, just over 600m in length, off the coast of Sakhalin, that has become a home to thousands of Northern Fur Seals and Steller’s Sea Lions. It is one of the few islands in the North Pacific region where fur seals form big rookeries; thousands of animals are hauled out on the beach and females give birth to pups while males fight for territory and females. There is always a lot of activity on these rookeries - you can observe for hours and hours. The island is also home to numerous seabirds which nest on the cliffs around the coastline. Just a rock in the ocean, with no trees or fresh water, the island is a wildlife paradise with almost every bit of space occupied by animals and birds. It is a wildlife preserve and an important location for scientific research. We will witness a marvellous abundance of marine mammals and birds as we explore, and will spend some time observing the fur seals in the middle of their reproductive season.
Day 4: Pil’tun Bay
The northeast part of Sakhalin Island especially Pil’tun Bay is a regular feeding ground for Western Grey Whales. Critically endangered, with only about 120 animals left in the wild and many questions still unanswered about their ecology, they were believed to be extinct after heavy exploitation during the 19th and 20th centuries, but miraculously survived. Pil’tun Bay consistently holds the biggest congregation of whales during summer months: they come every year to forage in the productive waters off the shelf. This area has also become a place of collision between oil-drilling companies and conservation organisations, because a lot of seismic work is taking place off the shore of Pil’tun Bay.
Day 5: Iona Island
A small island in the vastness of the Sea of Okhotsk over 200km away from the mainland. Completely uninhabited with only an automatic weather station and a small hut of unknown origin, it is a crucial location for the endangered Steller’s Sea Lion population. There are only a few reproductive sites for the Steller’s Sea Lion in the region and Iona Island is one of them - it is covered with sea lions on almost every rock. We have a wonderful opportunity to observe these sea lions in huge congregations as they haul out on rocks, or swim around, driven by curiosity.
As well as mammals, the island is home to huge colonies of sea birds: auklets (including the attractive Whiskered Auklet), puffins, guillemots and gulls nest in their hundreds of thousands on the cliffs. The sky becomes dark with birds when they fly out to sea in search of food; it is a regional Natural Heritage site and for good reason. We will cruise around the island and surrounding rocks, enjoying magnificent birding and watching numerous sea lions all around.
Day 6: Shanter Archipelago
This massive archipelago consists of 15 islands, of which there are four big ones, surrounded by numerous smaller rocks. It covers a vast area in the west of the Sea of Okhotsk and the climate is somewhat harsh. Sea ice gets stuck in the strait for a long time before it melts, so there are only a few months of ice-free sea and ice floes can be seen as late in the season as July. The islands are covered with larch and pine forests and present a wonderful habitat for about 200 bird species. The most spectacular, without doubt, is Steller’s Sea Eagle, the true king of Far East birding and on average the heaviest eagle species in the world. These amazing birds nest on the Shanter islands and we will look for them as we explore on hikes or zodiac cruises.
Numerous seabirds nest on the cliffs and offshore rocks; we have a chance to see Horned and Tufted Puffins, murres, auklets and many Spectacled Guillemots. Further inland, Brown Bears are the biggest terrestrial animals, but many other creatures can also be found. There are rivers, lakes and spectacular waterfalls to explore, and it’s all uninhabited apart from the staff at weather stations.
Seals and whales also favour this area, there is Amur stock of Beluga Whales that migrate to the Archipelago and other regions during the spring/summer season. They form big pods and are easily spotted due to their shining white colour. As we zodiac cruise around the coastline we have a fair chance of seeing these magnificent whales, sometimes called ‘sea canaries’ for their impressive underwater vocalisations. Killer Whales also roam these waters in search of prey and Bowhead Whales are occasionally seen in the area.
Various seals live in this region too. Bearded, Spotted, Ringed and, the most sought-after the beautiful Ribbon Seals can be spotted, depending on the ice dynamics.
Day 7: Mal’minskie Islands and Fedora Bay
An incredible, wild area on the west coast of the Sea of Okhotsk. Small islands form part of the Dzhugdzhursky Nature Reserve, which is one of the wildest and least-studied reserves in Russia. It covers a huge territory of eight thousand hectares and consists of three parts, with a big marine area attached. The reserve epitomises the harsh Siberian climate and breathtaking landscapes of the region.
The Mal’minskie islands are home to numerous seabirds; the biggest colony of Spectacled Guillemot is to be found here, along with kittiwakes, Parakeet Auklets, puffins and many other species.
There is also a good chance of Steller’s Sea Eagle as we make excursions. On the mainland, taiga fauna is richly represented: Brown Bears roam free, as well as wolves, wolverines, Red Foxes, various species of weasel, Siberian Musk Deer and moose.
Of course there are also marine mammals to be spotted. Four species of seal live in the Sea of Okhotsk along with several whale species, amongst which are the local population of Bowhead Whales and (the most desirable sighting for keen whale-watchers) Northern Right Whales.
These areas are very attractive with their wilderness and inaccessibility, little is widely known about the region and few people venture to set foot on the islands. Our activities will depend on the ice conditions, but there are endless opportunities to explore.
Day 8: Okhotsk Town
One of the earliest towns of the Russian Far East, the first settlement was established on this site by Russian Cossacks in 1647. After the famous explorer Vitus Bering visited it on the way to Kamchatka on his first expedition here, he proposed founding a navigation school for young sailors. Since then, and for almost a century, Okhotsk was an important port on the Far East coast, from which many expeditions departed. At the beginning of the 19th century, it fell into decline as nearby Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy became the more widely-used sea port, but during the Soviet period it revived with a thriving fish processing factory and the town regained its former status. However, as the Soviet Union collapsed, so did the industry in town. Now it is only a shadow of its former self and much smaller but it remains very typical of the tenacious and proud nature of Russian province towns - some houses still look unchanged from the 19th century. There is also a small museum of local history, culture and wildlife, which is tended with special care, as you only find in small, remote towns.
Day 9: Talan Island
A tiny island in the northern Sea of Okhotsk, it supports an unbelievable diversity of wildlife. Over 140 species of birds can be observed on the island, most of them migratory. However, there are 21 nesting species, and this little scrap of land has one of the biggest seabird colonies in the north of the Sea of Okhotsk. Over 1.8 million birds bring the cliffs alive and obscure the sky as they fly out to sea. Gulls, kittiwakes, Thick-billed Murres, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Crested, Whiskered and Parakeet Auklets, Ancient Murrelets and many other species form a bird-watcher’s paradise. Scientific research has been conducted here for many years, studying migratory birds as well as nesting species.
The island is also inhabited by Red Foxes and they are not as shy as in other places, which presents wonderful opportunities for photography. There are even some birds of prey that nest on the island: Steller’s Sea Eagles are resident and, interestingly, the eagle feeds primarily on seabirds.
The island is an absolute birding marvel and a destination of great interest for anyone keen on wildlife.
Day 10: Magadan
As we visit the administrative centre of the Magadaskaya region, we have a chance to learn about its tragic past and developing present. Founded in 1929, Magadan officially became a city only in 1939 and for many years was a hub for northeast Siberian gulags (or labour camps). Incredible numbers of prisoners passed through this city (over 800,000) as they were distributed to different camps in the region. Over 150,000 of them died. It was a tragic price to pay the ruling regime for the development of the region. When the enterprise collapsed, Magadan remained an industrial and cultural centre and even though many people left during the 1990s, development is progressing rapidly. There are several major universities, a few institutes (industrial as well as devoted to natural sciences) and several museums. Magadan is the true cultural capital of the region.
There is a moving monument to all those who suffered their sentence here during the Soviet era and the cathedral is the biggest in the Russian Far East and one of the highest in Russia.
There is a lot to see and to learn here as we go on excursions and walk around exploring the city.
Days 11 - 13: Shelekhova Bay and Cape Yuzhnyy
The huge bay in the northern part of the Sea of Okhotsk is covered with ice for half of the year and is famous for its irregular and very high tides. The area is extremely productive. It is home to four true seal species (Bearded, Ringed, Ribbon and Largha) and one eared seal – Steller’s Sea Lion. There are also many whale species that can be seen in the area – Bowhead, Northern Right, Grey, Humpback and Fin. Depending on ice conditions, we will explore some parts of the bay and visit Yamskie Islands which are yet another wonder of the Russian Far East. Being even more impressive than all that we saw before, this bird colony is the biggest in the Sea of Okhotsk and one of the biggest in the whole North Pacific region - it holds over 10 million nesting birds! We will enjoy the sight of murres, guillemots and auklets (including tremendous numbers of Least Auklets nesting), kittiwakes and gulls, as well as over a million Northern Fulmars.
Day 14: At Sea
Taking time to rest and enjoy shipboard life in the bar or library after such busy days, we will have the chance to learn more about the biology and history of the area and the icy Sea of Okhotsk through informal lectures with our experts.
Day 15: Opala River
Located to the south of the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Opala river offers amazing opportunities for wildlife sighting. Beginning on the slopes of Gorely volcano, it flows for about 160 km down to the Sea of Okhotsk. Many species of salmon swim upriver throughout the summer to spawn, which in turn attracts many predators like Wolverines, Steller’s Sea Eagles and, of course, the King of Kamchatka – the Brown Bear. Bears gather in huge congregations around the riverbanks and take advantage of this annual feast. This will be our best opportunity to observe bears and also enjoy magnificent eagles nesting on the banks of the river. It is also a wonderful example of varied river habitat, which we will explore in the Zodiacs.
This true wilderness presents a great opportunity to appreciate the richness of the Kamchatka land and to take many memorable photographs.
Day 16: At Sea
We have a day at sea as we cruise across the Kamchatka Trench towards Avacha Bay and the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, where the expedition will finish tomorrow. The waters we are cruising through are renowned for cetaceans as this is the border between two major tectonic plates and there are deep canyons where these animals feed. Blue, Fin, Humpback, Sperm and Baird’s Beaked-Whales have all been seen here on previous expeditions, as have Dall’s Porpoise and Orca, so there is real potential to end the voyage with some great cetacean sightings.
There will, of course, also be birds to watch and whilst we may not see any new species, this will be our last opportunity to see birds such as Tufted Puffin, Ancient Murrelet and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel.
We will end the voyage with a farewell dinner and expedition recap.
Day 17: Petropavlovsk – Kamchatskiy
During the night the Spirit of Enderby will enter Avacha Bay which is one of the greatest natural harbours in the world. You will disembark the ship mid-morning at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy and there will be a complimentary coach transfer to either a hotel of your choice in the city or the airport.
To allow time for disembarkation procedures we do not recommend booking flights before 13:00hrs. If you wish to extend your stay you can visit some of the local attractions, like the famed Valley of the Geysers. Please contact us so we can arrange post-cruise accommodation and activities.
Spirit of Enderby
The Spirit of Enderby is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel, built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and is perfect for Expedition Travel.
She carries just 50 passengers and was refurbished in November 2004 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins approximately half of which have private facilities. All cabins have outside windows or portholes and ample storage space.
On board there is a combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room. The cuisine is excellent and is prepared by top NZ and Australian chefs.
The real focus and emphasis of every expedition is getting you ashore as often as possible for as long as possible with maximum safety and comfort. Our Expeditions are accompanied by some of the most experienced naturalists and guides, who have devoted a lifetime to field research in the areas that we visit. The ship is crewed by a very enthusiastic and most experienced Russian Captain and crew.
The name Spirit of Enderby honours the work and the vision of the Enderby Brothers of London. The Enderby Captains were at the forefront of Antarctic exploration for almost 40 years in the early 1800’s. It also celebrates Enderby Island, arguably the greatest Subantarctic Island in the world.
a) our fleet of RIB’s, (rigid inflatable boats) sometimes referred to as zodiacs. These extremely safe and stable craft will land you at some of the most amazing places.
- Heritage Suite: Has a large lounge area, a separate bedroom with double bed, a single bed in the lounge, writing desk, wardrobe, drawers. There is a private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. There are large forward and side facing windows to allow great views.
- Mini Suites: Have a separate bedroom with a double bed and a single bed or a sofa in the lounge, wardrobe, drawers, a desk and a private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. The Mini Suites have windows.
- Superior Plus cabins: Have two lower berths, wardrobe, drawers, desk, a private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. These cabins have windows.
- Superior cabins: Have bunks (an upper and lower berth), wardrobe, drawers, a desk, a private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. These cabins have windows.
- Main deck cabins: Have two lower berths, wardrobe, drawers, a desk, washbasin and porthole. The nearby showers and toilets are shared with other Main deck cabins.
- Main deck triple: Has one bunk (one upper and one lower) and one lower berth, wardrobe, drawers, a desk and wash basin. The nearby showers and toilets are shared with other Main deck cabins.
Vessel Type: Expedition
Length: 72 meters
Beam: 13 meters
Speed (average): 10 knots
Built / refurbished: 1984 / 2004
Capacity: 48 (twin & triple cabins)