The Kamchatka Peninsula is a 1,250 km finger of land which lies between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean. About 30% of the land area is protected in national reserves. The most significant feature of the landscape is around 160 volcanoes, of which 29 are still active. More than half of the population of Kamchatka lives alongside Avacha Bay in the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy (often referred to as "PK") and in the neighbouring town of Yelizovo.
Kamchatka was first inhabited about 15,000 years ago. These indigenous people’s culture and lifestyle were based on their wide use of the natural resources found there. The Itelmen were mainly fisherman, Koryaks and Evens were hunters and Reindeer herders. The first “Cossack” explorers came to Kamchatka in the early 17th century. At the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century there was a period when interest in the Far East and Kamchatka grew rapidly driven in part by the economic development of Russia by Peter the Great. It was also a period of ruthless and murderous rulers and the native people suffered great hardship. In 1724 Peter the Great commissioned Danish navigator to explore the seas of north-eastern Russia. He led two expeditions to this region. The Capital of the region Petropavlovsk is named after his two ships of his second expedition of 1740.
Much of the traditional way of life was destroyed by Soviet collectivisation and the drive for industrialisation. Since the political changes of 1989 and the disappearance of the state-collective systems, the financial support that accompanied these systems has also disappeared and many people are suffering. During and after World War 11, Kamchatka began to develop as a military region. Submarine bases and patrols stretched along its borders. This is one of the reasons why Kamchatka was closed to foreigners and Russians alike.
According to latest information, the flora of Kamchatka numbers 89 families, 411 genera and 1170 species and subspecies of vascular plants. The main forest is stone birch. Willows (salix),aromatic polar (Populus snaveolens), aspen (P. Tremula), alders, and other trees grow in floodplains along the rivers. Dahurian larch (Larix gmelini), Ayan spruce (Picea ayanensis), and the Monarch Birch (Betula maximovitschii) grow in the center of the Peninsula. Japanese stone pine and alder shrubs cover mountain ranges and tundra woodlands. Forty rare and endangered species of plants are found around mineral hot springs and fumaroles, four of these species are endemic to Kamchatka.
Forty three mammal species inhabit the region nine of which are marine mammals. Kamchatka has one of the highest populations of brown bear (Ursus arctos) in the world, it is also one of the largest of the Brown Bear group. Other mammals include sable, which incidentally was hunted extensively – sable skins were extremely valuable, they still fetch high prices today. There are wolverine, wolves and Arctic Fox all of these are still hunted to some extent. The Eurasian Forest Reindeer have been herded for centuries and still are today. Mountain sheep can be found living high in the mountains, they rarely descend lower than 600 metres. Elk or Moose can be found in the forests of Kamchatka and are hunted . Canadian beaver and mink were introduced for commercial reasons and both Lynx and squirrel migrated south into the Peninsula at the beginning of the 1900’s.
Marine mammals include steller’s sea lions, northern fur seals, otters and numerous species of whales including Grey , minike, beluga, bowhead, blue and humpback whales.
There are a wide range of habitats in Kamchatka and the climate is extreme both these factors have a huge impact on the Birdlife. As Kamchatka is also part of a major “flyway” or migratory route for birds travelling to the Arctic for breeding many of the species recorded there are transients. According to a paper prepared by the Kamchatka Institute of Ecology in 1999 there have been 284 species of birds recoded in Kamchatka. (This includes Commander Islands – see separate article). Because of the extensive coastline and islands within the region shore birds and seabirds are well represented, for example there are 17 species of Gulls and terns recoded. There are 13 species of Alcidea’s listed as breeding including the rare Kiittlitz’s and Marbled Murrelets. Given the extensive areas of wetlands, especially in northern Kamchatka it is not surprising that there are a large number of waterfowl recorded from the region there are at least 13 species breeding and 45 as stragglers or transient. One of the highlights has got to be Steller’s Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) the largest fish eagle and one of the largest eagles in the world. The extremely rare Spoon-billed sandpiper (Calidris pygmaeus) can be found in the northern part of Kamchatka.
Gippenreiter, Vadim (1992), Kamchatka: Land of Fire and Ice, London: Laurence King
Control number: 356283 // SBN 1856690202 // hbk // Class number: sa 356H
Newell, Josh (2004), The Russian Far East: a reference guide for conservation and development, Published by Daniel and Daniel Pub. Inc.
ISBN 1880284766 // hbk // Class Number: mg 265XC
Bergman, Sten (1927), Through Kamchatka by Dog-Sled and Skis, Published by Seeley, Service & Co
Control number: 356420 // Class number: sa 356E
Experience this destination by expedition cruising with Heritage Expeditions on the following departures: