Sea of Okhotsk:

Seals, Seabirds and a Legacy of Sorrow

Sea of Okhotsk: Seals, Seabirds and a Legacy of Sorrow

DAYS 11 / SHIP Spirit of Enderby

DEPARTURES 14 Jun 2022

PLACES VISITED Sea of Okhotsk

PRICES FROM $6,590 USD (More Rates)

Little known outside of Russia and seldom visited by westerners, Russia's Sea of Okhotsk dominates the Northwest Pacific. Bounded to the north and west by the Russian continent and the Kamchatka Peninsula to the east, with the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin Island guarding the southern border, it is almost landlocked. Its coasts were once home to a number of groups of indigenous people: the Nivkhi, Oroki, Even and Itelmen. Their name for this sea simply translates as something like the ‘Sea of Hunters' or ‘Hunters Sea', perhaps a clue to the abundance of wildlife found here.

In 1725, and again in 1733, the Russian explorer Vitus Bering launched two expeditions from the town of Okhotsk on the western shores of this sea in order to explore the eastern coasts of the Russian Empire. For a long time this town was the gateway to Kamchatka and beyond. The modern town of Okhotsk is built near the site of the old town, and little has changed over the centuries. Inhabitants now have an air service, but their lives are still dominated by the sea.

Perhaps no other sea in the world has witnessed as much human suffering and misery as the Sea of Okhotsk. Between 1932 and 1953 it is estimated that over 3 million prisoners (the vast majority of them innocent) were transported across the Sea of Okhotsk to the Gulags of the Kolyma Goldfields. It is estimated that only 500,000 of those prisoners survived to make the journey home. The town and port of Magadan were built to process these prisoners. Today there is little evidence of the town's sordid past, but the Mask of Sorrow, a large monument on a hill overlooking the town, is a poignant reminder of Magadan's origins.

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. In 1854, no fewer than 160 American and British whaling ships were there hunting whales. Despite this seemingly relentless exploitation the wildlife thrives, albeit probably not in the numbers it used to, but still in numbers that boggle the mind. The beautifully marked and rare Ribbon Seals are abundant here. On the small island of Iony and globally important seabird nesting sites on Yamskie Islands, part of the Magadanskii Nature Reserve, hundreds of Steller Sea Lions haul out here each year to breed.

Seabird numbers in the Sea of Okhotsk can only be described as spectacular. We are talking numbers rarely seen anywhere else in the world, such as an estimated 7 million on Matykil Island in the Yamskiye Archipelago. Then there are islands like Talan where the sky darkens when the Crested Auklets start massing offshore before returning each evening. Birds there include various species of 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 such as the Arctic Ground Squirrel.

This is a truly unique expedition in that it travels through a little known sea. It is a region with a history that up until recently has been suppressed and not spoken about, the magnitude of the tragedy of Stalin's Gulag system is only now becoming apparent. It is also an area with 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.

Note: Expeditioners on this voyage have the option to stay on board as we transfer Akademik Shokalskiy to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy at the completion of the voyage - an extra three nights free! These will be sea days, with a minimal expedition programme, and a chance to unwind in the library, bar and on the bridge. Those staying on board will disembark at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy on 27 June 2022.

Little known outside of Russia and seldom visited by westerners, Russia's Sea of Okhotsk dominates the Northwest Pacific. Bounded to the north and west by the Russian continent and the Kamchatka Peninsula to the east, with the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin Island guarding the southern border, it is almost landlocked. Its coasts were once home to a number of groups of indigenous people: the Nivkhi, Oroki, Even and Itelmen. Their name for this sea simply translates as something like the ‘Sea of Hunters' or ‘Hunters Sea', perhaps a clue to the abundance of wildlife found here.

In 1725, and again in 1733, the Russian explorer Vitus Bering launched two expeditions from the town of Okhotsk on the western shores of this sea in order to explore the eastern coasts of the Russian Empire. For a long time this town was the gateway to Kamchatka and beyond. The modern town of Okhotsk is built near the site of the old town, and little has changed over the centuries. Inhabitants now have an air service, but their lives are still dominated by the sea.

Perhaps no other sea in the world has witnessed as much human suffering and misery as the Sea of Okhotsk. Between 1932 and 1953 it is estimated that over 3 million prisoners (the vast majority of them innocent) were transported across the Sea of Okhotsk to the Gulags of the Kolyma Goldfields. It is estimated that only 500,000 of those prisoners survived to make the journey home. The town and port of Magadan were built to process these prisoners. Today there is little evidence of the town's sordid past, but the Mask of Sorrow, a large monument on a hill overlooking the town, is a poignant reminder of Magadan's origins.

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. In 1854, no fewer than 160 American and British whaling ships were there hunting whales. Despite this seemingly relentless exploitation the wildlife thrives, albeit probably not in the numbers it used to, but still in numbers that boggle the mind. The beautifully marked and rare Ribbon Seals are abundant here. On the small island of Iony and globally important seabird nesting sites on Yamskie Islands, part of the Magadanskii Nature Reserve, hundreds of Steller Sea Lions haul out here each year to breed.

Seabird numbers in the Sea of Okhotsk can only be described as spectacular. We are talking numbers rarely seen anywhere else in the world, such as an estimated 7 million on Matykil Island in the Yamskiye Archipelago. Then there are islands like Talan where the sky darkens when the Crested Auklets start massing offshore before returning each evening. Birds there include various species of 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 such as the Arctic Ground Squirrel.

This is a truly unique expedition in that it travels through a little known sea. It is a region with a history that up until recently has been suppressed and not spoken about, the magnitude of the tragedy of Stalin's Gulag system is only now becoming apparent. It is also an area with 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.

Note: Expeditioners on this voyage have the option to stay on board as we transfer Akademik Shokalskiy to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy at the completion of the voyage - an extra three nights free! These will be sea days, with a minimal expedition programme, and a chance to unwind in the library, bar and on the bridge. Those staying on board will disembark at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy on 27 June 2022.

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ITINERARY
Sea of Okhotsk: Seals, Seabirds and a Legacy of Sorrow
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Day 1: Sakhalin Island, Port of Korsakov
This morning we will all congregate at the Mega Palace Hotel and take a coach transfer to the Port of Korsakov some 40 minutes south of the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. (Full details of all these arrangements will be provided upon receipt of booking.) After a security check (we have Russian speaking staff to assist in this process) you and your luggage will be transferred to 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. We plan to get underway soon after you have embarked. There will be briefings and introductions to the ship, staff and crew after we have departed and we will also take the opportunity to conduct a number of safety briefings. Today we are at sea clearing the southern tip of Sakhalin Island into the Sea of Okhotsk.

Day 2: Tyuleniy Island
We arrive at little known Tyuleniy Island off the south-east coast of Sakhalin Island. This small island is a stronghold for Northern Fur Seals and, since 1990, an increasing number of Steller Sea Lions. Up until the early 1900s fur seals were slaughtered in their thousands on this island. The Japanese who occupied Sakhalin Island at that time took as many as they could. An international convention, signed in 1911, on the research and management of fur seals changed these practices and the numbers have slowly been recovering, reaching a record in the 1950s of about 120,000 animals. In the 1960s a substantial field research station was constructed on the island and scientists monitored the population annually. 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. This will be an opportunity to photograph the seals and sea lions as well as talk with the researchers.

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. The first commercial wells were built in Piltun Bay and they were not without controversy and protest. Biologists had been aware for a long time of a western population of Gray Whales that were (are) thought to migrate not to California (as most Gray Whales do) but possibly to somewhere in the South China Sea. Piltun Bay is an important habitat for this population so there were strict environmental practices imposed on the multinational developers. Researchers based at the disused lighthouse in Piltun Bay monitor the population during the summer months. We visit Piltun Bay today, where the oil and gas platforms are very obvious, but 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. If conditions are suitable we will cross a river bay to explore an estuary where large numbers of Harbour Seals hang out.

Day 4: Iony Island
There are 15 islands in this little known archipelago. Lying as they do in the western sector of the Sea of Okhotsk close to the continent, they are amongst the last places here to become ice free each year. This late ice can sometimes restrict how far we can explore. On the other hand if there is ice around, it increases our chances of seeing some of the seals including Bearded, Ringed, Largha and Ribbon Seals that breed here. Potentially this area is one of the best to get observations and photographs of the beautifully patterned Ribbon Seals. The seas around the Shantar Archipelago are also renowned for Bowhead Whales. Our chances of seeing these depend on the ice, the majority of sightings are in fact from later in the season, but we will be looking very hard. If we can land there will be birding, botany and photography excursions led by our team of on board naturalists. We have set aside two days here to maximise our chances of getting ashore and also having the best wildlife experiences.

Days 5 to 6: Shantar Archipelago
There are 15 islands in this little known archipelago. Lying as they do in the western sector of the Sea of Okhotsk close to the continent, they are amongst the last places here to become ice free each year. This late ice can sometimes restrict how far we can explore. On the other hand if there is ice around, it increases our chances of seeing some of the seals including Bearded, Ringed, Largha and Ribbon Seals that breed here. Potentially this area is one of the best to get observations and photographs of the beautifully patterned Ribbon Seals. The seas around the Shantar Archipelago are also renowned for Bowhead Whales. Our chances of seeing these depend on the ice, the majority of sightings are in fact from later in the season, but we will be looking very hard. If we can land there will be birding, botany and photography excursions led by our team of on board naturalists. We have set aside two days here to maximise our chances of getting ashore and also having the best wildlife experiences.

Day 7: Mal’minskie Islands
The sight that greets you when you approach these three small offshore islands is ‘birds’. There are birds everywhere, in the air, in the water and on the land. Numerous species breed here including large numbers of Spectacled Guillemots, perhaps the largest colony of these birds anywhere, as they are only found in the Sea of Okhotsk. Other birds include Ancient Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Parakeet Auklet, Horned and Tufted Puffin, Crested Auklet and both Common and Brunnich’s Guillemot. It is little wonder with the abundance of birds that there is a good population of Steller’s Sea Eagles on the island and adjacent mainland. Landing on the island is restricted to a small gravel spit and there are limited places to walk, 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. Prior to their arrival the indigenous people undoubtedly had seasonal camps here to harvest the salmon. Vitus Bering travelled overland from St Petersburg to Okhotsk in 1725, and again in 1733, and it was from this small town that both of these expeditions travelled to Kamchatka and beyond. Because of the hostility of the Koryak people in the north towards the Russian invaders, the Sea of Okhotsk was the main access route to Kamchatka. Today Okhotsk is the region’s fishing centre. The port exports significant quantities of salmon and other fish. We visit the town, landing by Zodiac up the river near its centre. The local people are generous and welcoming, and will provide some entertainment in the town centre with a cultural display. This is a chance to experience genuine Russian Far East culture and embrace their hospitality.

Day 9: Talan Island
An internationally known, but very difficult to get to, bird island, Talan lies offshore some 50 miles west of Magadan. It is infamous largely because of the hundreds of thousands of Crested Auklets that nest here. A lot of research has been done here in the past and there are a number of huts and obvious signs of human activity. There is also an extraordinary number of Black-legged Kittiwakes nesting along the cliffs, and not surprisingly a large population of Steller’s Sea Eagles. If weather conditions are suitable we will circumnavigate the island by Zodiac before landing at the western end. We plan to return in the evening after dinner to witness the huge flocks of Crested Auklets amassing offshore before returning to the island. If the conditions are right it is one of those sights, and nights, you will never forget.

Day 10: Koni Peninsula
This is a mountainous region to the south-east of the town of Magadan. Approximately one third of it is protected by its inclusion in the Magadanskiy Zapovednik (a Federal Nature Reserve). This reserve protects among other animals brown bear and Snow Sheep. There are numerous places to land and the climate is very much affected by the Sea of Okhotsk. Very few visitors have ever landed on, or explored, the Koni Peninsula. 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 of what we will find. That is part of what makes our style of travel so interesting. We spend the day here with at least two landings at different sites.

Day 11: Yamskiye Islands
These islands are also included in the Magadansky Zapovednik and 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 Brunnich’s Guillemot, Crested, Parakeet and Least Auklets, Tufted and Horned Puffins and Northern Fulmars. The most abundant of these is the Least Auklet. The islands are also a well known breeding ground for the Steller Sea Lion and we will see large numbers both in the water and hauled on the few beaches on the island. We Zodiac around the coast as no landings are permitted, but you get a much better appreciation of the islands and the abundance of the wildlife by cruising the shoreline.

Day 12: Magadan
The name Magadan is synonymous with Stalin’s oppressive Gulags or prisons. It is estimated that between 1932 and 1953 more than 3.5 million ‘prisoners’ were shipped across the Sea of Okhotsk to Magadan or Nagaevo, as it was then known, to work in the Kolyma Goldfields. It is thought that only 500,000 survived the terrible conditions including the cold, lack of food, and inhuman treatment by the guards and officials. Nowadays there is very little evidence of this town’s tragic past. The local museum has an excellent display about the Gulags (sadly almost all information is in Russian) but the most poignant reminder is the ‘Mask of Sorrow’, a large monument, dedicated to those who suffered here, on a hill overlooking the town. Today it is a town of about 100,000 people. Fishing is important and gold mining is experiencing a revival with mechanical dredges and machinery successfully reworking the areas once worked by the prisoners with their hands. The port is kept open throughout the winter by icebreakers as it is the lifeline for those living here. The infamous Kolyma Highway, also known as the ‘Road of Bones’, connects Magadan with Yakutsk and the rest of Russia. We plan to arrive in the Port of Magadan early morning. There will be a complimentary shuttle to a central hotel in the city. In case of unavoidable delays with either weather and/or formalities we kindly ask you not to make any onward flight reservations until after 1300 hours. Those staying on board will arrive in the Port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy on 27 June; we kindly ask you don’t make any onwards plans until after 1200 noon. Note: During our voyage, circumstances may make it necessary or desirable to deviate from the proposed itinerary. This can include poor weather and/or opportunities for making unplanned excursions. Your Expedition Leader will keep you fully informed.

Days 13-14: At Sea, Optional
These will be sea days, with a minimal expedition programme, and a chance to unwind in the library, bar and on the bridge. Those staying on board will disembark at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy on 27 June 2022; we kindly ask you don’t make any onwards plans until after 1200 noon.

Our ship: Spirit of Enderby

The Spirit of Enderby (Professor Khromov) 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 May 2019 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins approximately half of which have private facilities. All cabins have outside windows o...

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Pricing

Sea of Okhotsk - 14 Jun 2022 to 25 Jun 2022 - Spirit of Enderby

Cabin Category Price USD Description Availablity
Main Deck Triple $6,590 One bunk (one upper and one lower) and one additional lower berth, writing desk, wardrobe, and drawers. Private washbasin. Shared shower and toilet facilities nearby with other Main Deck cabins. These cabins have a porthole. Available
Main Deck $7,750 Two lower berths, writing desk, wardrobe, and drawers. Private washbasin. Shared shower and toilet facilities nearby with other Main Deck cabins. These cabins have a porthole. Available
Superior $8,270 One bunk (one upper and one lower berth), writing desk, wardrobe, and drawers. Private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. These cabins have windows. Limited
Superior Plus $9,000 Two lower berths, writing desk, wardrobe, and drawers. Private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. These cabins have windows. Available
Mini Suite $9,420 Separate bedroom with a double bed and a single bed or sofa in the lounge, writing desk, wardrobe and drawers. Private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. Mini Suites have windows. Available
Heritage Suite $10,370 Large lounge area, separate bedroom with double bed, single bed in the lounge, writing desk, wardrobe, drawers, and fridge. There is a private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. Large forward and side facing windows with great views. Available
Additional fees

Local Payment: $500.00pp

Includes:

Pre/Post cruise transfers, all on board ship accommodation, meals and all expedition shore excursions.

Excludes:

All items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas and travel insurance.

21 Oct 2020
Heritage Expeditions 2020-21 Southern Ocean season made the national news this week appearing in TVNZ 1 News piece. Check out the video below to ...READ MORE
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