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. 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. The freshwaters of the Amur River flow into this vast, naturally-sheltered sea and it freeze's 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 the southern border. Its coasts were home to a number of indigenous peoples - the Nivikh, Oroki, Even and Itelmen - 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 Commander Vitus Bering launched two expeditions from the town of Okhotsk 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 growing 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 on the ice, while Steller Sea Lions may be viewed shambling on craggy rocks.
On Talan Island we visit a huge colony of Crested Auklets and on the cliffs tumbling round the back of forgotten islands, we'll find thousands of seabirds. Soaring above the archipelagos is 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 which churn with salmon during the breeding season and spectacular taiga forests where wolves, Big Horned Sheep and Arctic Fox roam. During our excursions ashore we should catch sight of the mighty Kamchatka Brown Bear.
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Pre/Post cruise transfers, all on board ship accommodation and meals and all shore excursions as outlined in the itinerary.
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Arrive into Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy the capital and administrative centre of the Kamchatka Region and transfer to the port to board the Spirit of Enderby. We will set sail through Avacha Bay, one of the greatest natural harbours in the world.
The Utashud are a small group of islands off the eastern coastline of the Kamchatka Peninsula. They are far enough offshore and small enough as to avoid disturbance from animals and activities on the mainland, they have an abundance of birds and marine life. If conditions are suitable Zodiac around the islands to view some of the regions seabirds including Tufted and Horned Puffins. There is also a good population of Sea Otters and harbour seals. This afternoon we sail around Cape Lopatka and into the Sea of Okhotsk.
Cruise north-west across the Sea of Okhotsk towards the northern tip of Sakhalin Island. The upwelling around the edge of the Deryugin Basin should be an ideal location to see cetaceans.
The north-east part of Sakhalin Island especially 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. The water around northern Sakhalin Island consistently holds the biggest congregation of whales during summer months; they come every year to forage in the productive waters off the shelf.
This massive archipelago consists of 15 islands, of which there are four big ones, surrounded by numerous smaller rocks. 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.
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.
These small islands form part of the Dzhugdzhursky Nature Reserve, which is one of the wildest and least-studied reserves in Russia. The reserve epitomises the harsh Siberian climate and breathtaking landscapes of the region.
The Mal'minskie Islands are home to numerous seabirds; one of the biggest colonies 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. 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.
A small island in the vastness of the Sea of Okhotsk, it is completely uninhabited with only an automatic weather station and a small derelict hut of unknown origin. It is a crucial location for the endangered Steller Sea Lion population. We will cruise around the island and surrounding rocks, enjoying magnificent birding and watching numerous sea lions all around.
The first settlement was established on this site by Russian Cossacks in 1647, making it one of the earliest towns of the Russian Far East. The famous explorer Commander Vitus Bering visited here on the way to Kamchatka on his first expedition. Okhotsk was an important port on the Far East coast, from which many expeditions departed.
A tiny island in the northern Sea of Okhotsk, it supports an unbelievable diversity of wildlife. Despite its size this island has one of the largest seabird colonies in the north of the Sea of Okhotsk. Over an estimated 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 birdwatcher's paradise. The island is also inhabited by Red Foxes.
Thirty miles off the entrance to Magadan Harbour is Zavyalov Island. Depending on sea and weather conditions we will make an expedition landing in search of wildlife encounters, wild flowers and scenery.
This peninsula south of Magadan is part of the Magadanskaya Reserve and we will likely be accompanied by a Ranger for our landings. There are numerous sheltered bays and harbours with rivers flowing in to explore the largest of which is the Zabiyaka Bay.
The huge bay in the northern part of the Sea of Okhotsk (Penzhinskiy) is covered with ice for half of the year and is famous for its irregular and very high tides. Home to four seal species: Bearded, Ringed, Ribbon and Largha, along with the Steller Sea Lion. There are also potentially many whale species that can be seen in the area: Bowhead, Northern Right, Grey, Humpback and Fin.
During the night we will have crossed to Cape Yuzhnyy. Many species of salmon swim upriver throughout the summer to spawn, attracting many predators like Steller's Sea Eagles and the Kamchatka Brown Bear.
If the weather is fine, there should be fantastic views of the many snow-covered volcanoes that dominate the southern part of the peninsula as we sail north. Bukhta Russkaya is an isolated fiord. We hope to cruise into the fiord where there is an excellent chance of seeing both Sea Otters and Largha Seals. Brown bears are often seen here in the hillsides and birding can be very rewarding here also.
During the night the Spirit of Enderby will enter Avacha Bay, after a final breakfast it will be time to disembark.
Our ship - The 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 March 2013 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 1800s. It also celebrates Enderby Island, arguably the greatest Subantarctic Island in the world.