Sea of Okhotsk

Amazing wildlife in the Russian Far East: Extraordinary auk concentrations, Ribbon Seals, special cetaceans and Siberian landbird specialities

At a Glance

FOCUS:

Birds & wildlife cruise:  birds, whales and remote islands.

WHERE:

Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Sakhalin Island – Magadan or Magadan - Magadan

SAMPLE WILDLIFE:

Numerous auks including Tufted and Horned Puffins, Crested, Parakeet, Whiskered, Least and Rhinoceros Auklets, Ancient and Long-billed Murrelets, Pigeon, Spectacled, Pigeon and Brunnich's Guillemots, as well as Slaty-backed Gull, Aleutian Tern, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel and Pelagic Cormorant.

Landbird possibilities include Steller's Sea-eagle, Brown Shrike, Spotted Nutcracker, Pallas's Leaf Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Siberian Accentor, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Pine Grosbeak, Asian Rosy Finch and Black-faced Bunting.

Some fantastic marine mammals are possible including Bowhead, Northern Minke and North Pacific Right Whales, Beluga, Orca, Dall's Porpoise, Steller's Sea-lion, Northern Fur Seal and Ribbon, Ringed, Largha and Bearded Seals, whilst ashore Brown Bear.

Dates and Prices:

Dates: TBC

Leader: Ship’s expedition team

Prices: TBC



Travel to Russia is currently not advised by the UK government as the country is on the "amber list". Hopefully this will be possible in 2022 without too many restrictions and until there is greater clarity we do not recommend making bookings.

  • Horned Puffins, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Pacific Fulmar, Sea of Okhotsk
  • cruising the sea ice near Shantar Islands
  • Short-tailed Shearwater
  • Steller's Sea-eagle, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Aleutian Tern, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Whiskered Auklets, Iony Island, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Pelagic Cormorant, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Arctic Warbler on ship, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Whiskered Auklet, Iony Island, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Aleutian Tern, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Parakeet Auklet, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Steller's Sea-eagle, near Shantar Islands
  • Pallas's Warbler, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Ancient Murrelet, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Bowhead Whale, nr Shantar Islands
  • Spectacled Guillemot, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Iony Island, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Largha Seals, Sakhalin Island
  • Least Auklet, Iony Island
  • Parakeet Auklet, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Common Guillemots, Sea of Okhotsk
  • Steller's Sea-lion, Iony Island
  • Steller's Sea-lion, Sea of Okhotsk

Tour overview

The Russian Far East has only been accessible since the mid 1990s and remains rarely visited and even our preferred operator, Heritage Expeditions, only visits the Sea of Okhotsk on a periodic basis. Nevertheless, this region has some of the most amazing wildlife spectacles in the entire region (and some would say the world) including Ribbon Seals on the sea ice, some of the largest auk colonies in the world and the opportunity to look for one of the rarest of the Arctic whales, the impressive Bowhead.

When sailing from the southern end of Sakhalin Island (which is surprisingly easy to reach from Western Europe as is Magadan), the ship tracks up the eastern side of the island, which is almost exactly the same length as the UK.  One of the stops which is made as the ship heads north is at Pil'tun Bay where the main target is the highly endangered Western Grey Whale. This isolated population spends the summer months here and we can expect to zodiac cruise in our quest to find these rare cetaceans whilst ashore we have excellent chances of seeing Steller's Sea-eagle and Aleutian Tern.

Continuing onwards, our next destination is the remote island of Iony which is over 140 miles offshore from the nearest other land. During the summer months, this tiny island is crammed with breeding seabirds where amongst the likely highlights are good numbers of Whiskered and Least Auklets. Parakeet and Crested Auklets as well as Horned and Tufted Puffins are also present, along with breeding Steller's Sea-lions and our zodiac circumnavigation of this small island is always spectacular.

Moving to the west, the next destination is the Shantar Islands which are located in the extreme north-west corner of the Okhotsk Sea. This area is very special as the currents move the sea ice towards these islands every Spring and even in mid-late June there can be many square miles of ice. This is the perfect place to look for the Ribbon Seal which is surely the most beautiful pinniped in the world. Although the numbers vary from year to year, the trips have so far never failed to find this gorgeous animal, with both Bearded and Ringed Seal also likely. There are excellent chances of seeing Steller's Sea-eagles on the ice, whilst in the more open areas, we will look for both Bowhead Whale and Beluga. Although neither of these impressive cetaceans is regular, an estimated 500 Belugas were seen in one bay on the 2019 expedition !!!

After two days in this region which usually includes some exploration ashore where Brown Bears and birds such as Mugimaki Flycatcher and Siberian Accentor are possible, the ship begins tracking eastwards along the northern shore of the Sea of Okhotsk with visits to some more amazing seabird breeding islands. At Mal'minskiye Island, for example, there are good numbers of the highly localised Spectacled Guillemot (which is more or less endemic to the Sea of Okhotsk) whilst at Talan we can expect to find huge numbers of Crested Auklets. For sheer spectacle, however, and for what has been described as one of the most amazing avian sights in the world, an evening visit to Yamskiye Island is often the highlight of this remarkable expedition. There are believed to be more breeding seabirds on this 6km long island than in the whole of north-west Europe and the size of the flocks of Crested and Least Auklets that stream in every evening are truly breathtaking.

Please note: a shorter itinerary which is a round-trip from Magadan is also offered in some years.

Itinerary

Day 1: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Sakhalin Island

Day 2: Tyuleniy Island

Days 3: Pil'tun Bay

Day 4:  Iony Island

Days 5-6: Shantar Islands

Day 7: Mal'minskiye Islands

Day 8: Okhotsk town

Days 9: Talan Islands

Days 10-11: Koni Peninsula

Day 12: Yamskiye Island

Day 13: Magadan  


A shorter (11 day) Magadan-Magadan itinerary is also sometimes offered which includes everything from day 4 onwards.


NB: As applies to all expedition cruises, the exact itinerary will be subject to weather and local conditions. All landings are subject to government permissions.

Potential Seabirds (selected species only)

Steller's Eider, Harlequin Duck, Stejneger's Scoter, Black Scoter, Black-tailed Gull, Slay-backed Gull, Aleutian Tern, Brunnich's Guillemot, Pigeon Guillemot, Spectacled Guillemot, Long-billed Murrelet, Ancient Murrelet, Parakeet Auklet, Least Auklet, Whiskered Auklet, Crested Auklet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel, Short-tailed Shearwater and Pelagic Cormorant.

Potential Landbirds (selected species only)

Oriental Cuckoo, Oriental Turtle Dove, Steller's Sea-eagle, Rough-legged Buzzard, Spotted Nutcracker, Large-billed Crow, Brown-headed Thrush, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Siberian Rubythroat, Taiga Flycatcher, Siberian Accentor, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Pine Grosbeak, Asian Rosy Finch and Black-faced Bunting.

Southern Sakhalin extension only:  Japanese Cormorant, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Black-browed Reed Warbler, Sakhalin Grasshopper Warbler, Dark-sided Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Robin, Narcissus Flycatcher.

Potential Cetaceans and other mammals (selected species only)

Bowhead Whale, Northern Minke Whale, North Pacific Right Whale, Beluga, Orca, Dall's Porpoise, Steller's Sea-lion, Northern Fur Seal, Ribbon Seal, Ringed Seal, Largha Seal, Bearded Seal.  Ashore: Brown Bear.