Russia - Bowhead Whales & Other Wildlife
August 2020 (14 days)
Dates1 Aug 2020 - 14 Aug 2020
Tour LeaderTo be announced
Single SupplementPlease contact us!
Tour Size8 Participants & 1 Local Leader
Flight Cost (Approximate)TBA
Spaces AvailableSpaces Available
Type of TourWildlife
Bowhead Whale (including chance of swimming with them), Orca, Ringed Seal, Bearded Seal, Largha Seal, Brown Bear, Steller’s Sea Eagle, Long-billed Murrelet, Spectacled Guillemot, Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Siberian Spruce Grouse
Day 1: Arrival in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and overnight
We will arrive into the small Russian city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur where we will overnight. This city is along the banks of the mighty Amur River. At this point of the river, it is 1.6 miles across and the city is a hub for the region.
In the evening, we should have time to take a stroll along the banks of the Amur, likely joined by many locals doing the same thing!
Day 2: Traveling to Sea of Okhotsk
Today will be a travel day, but a rather exciting one! We will use our local Russian transportation which is a 6×6 off-road vehicle to head deep into the heart of the Russian taiga.
These coniferous and mixed wood forests form part of the largest continuous forest in the world and at this time of year will be lush and green! Wildlife abounds in this area but as we are largely traveling we won’t have a lot of time to seek it out. Still we can always dream of a chance encounter with one of the taiga’s elusive inhabitants such as Wolf, Wolverine, Sable or Eurasian Lynx. Perhaps we will have more luck with one of the ungulates of the region such as Reindeer, Siberian Musk Deer, Moose, or Wild Boat.
More likely mammalian sightings are Eurasian Red Squirrel, Siberian Chipmunk, and Red Fox. The region abounds in birdlife as well and amongst many species the birder does have a slim but real chance today of seeing a couple of very rarely seen galliformes – Siberian Spruce Grouse and massive Black-billed Capercaillie. By the evening, we will reach the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk where we will camp for the night at Nikolay Bay.
Days 3 – 11: Exploring the Shantar Islands in the Sea of Okhotsk
The real adventure begins now as we head out into the Sea of Okhotsk. We will board our catamaran, the Odyssey to explore the Shantar Islands area. Our vessel is a 13-meter motor-sailing catamaran. On-board it has 4 double-cabins, a public area for eating and relaxing, and a hot water shower. It has an outside deck area for wildlife observation and two dinghys which will be used for wildlife observation and for making landings.
The Shantar Islands are a group of 15 rugged, uninhabited islands in the western extremity of the Sea of Okhotsk, near where the mighty Amur River enters the sea. The itinerary during these days is flexible to take advantage of the best weather conditions as we attempt to experience the very best this region has to offer. We will spend much of our time on the catamaran, but will also take to the dinghys regularly to get closer to marine wildlife and to make landings on these remote shores.
The main focus of the voyage is to enjoy close encounters with Bowhead Whales. There are many special things about these whales. Bowheads are amongst the largest of all whales and the second heaviest of them all (only the Blue Whale is larger). They are the longest living of all mammals, with a lifespan of at least 200 years, probably more – just imagine, there are Bowheads living today that were already alive in the time of Napoleon!
Their life history is closely connected to pack ice and the fact that the Sea of Okhotsk is frozen over for much of the year explains a small but distinct population in these waters. They are in fact the most northerly ranging of all the great whales and use their immensely thick skulls to crash through ice up to half a meter thick. But they do not need to worry about the ice at this season, as they congregate during the late summer to capitalize on the annual feeding bonanza that presents itself here.
All these facts are nothing compared with the feeling of having a close encounter with one of these behemoths. With the knowledge of our onboard team which will include at least one Russian whale biologist, we will be able to search the prime summer feeding grounds of the Bowhead and will make our very best efforts for that close encounter. If conditions are right, there could even be an opportunity to swim with them.
The other cetacean that is likely to be seen in these waters is the Orca or Killer Whale. Indeed, this legendary creature is known to occasionally hunt the mighty Bowhead in this area, proving that there is nothing in the ocean that it will not have a go at! Gray Whales and Beluga have also been recorded in the area but we would have to be really lucky to see these.
At least three species of seal are likely to be encountered – Bearded, Ringed and Largha Seal. The Shantar region is also the global hotspot of arguably the most striking of all seals, the ice-loving Ribbon Seal. However as there will be no ice here at this time of year a sighting of this species would be unlikely.
Another notable denizen of the region is Brown Bear. There is a high density of Brown Bears in the area and we are likely to come across multiple sightings. The bears here are amongst the largest that can be encountered anywhere along the species’ vast range.
The bird list is this area will be very interesting as well and some highlights that we might hope to encounter include Harlequin Duck, White-tailed Eagle, Spectacled Guillemot, Ancient Murrelet, Parakeet Auklet, Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Aleutian Tern, Siberian Rubythroat and Siberian Accentor. The area is a global hotspot for the rare Long-billed Murrelet which probably nest up in the twisted spruces trees in the area so we will hope for a sighting of this species at sea! But probably the most anticipated avian sighting of our journey will be that of the impressive Steller’s Sea Eagle, a huge and stunningly colored eagle. Our days in the area will be varied, exciting, and with seemingly infinite opportunities for discovery.
Day 12: Traveling towards Komsomolsk-on-Amur
Bidding our catamaran farewell, today we will be traveling south through the taiga in our 6×6 vehicle. During our long drive, we will keep our eyes open for any wildlife that we may encounter. Tonight, we will again be camping.
Day 13: Komsomolsk-on-Amur
We will arrive back in the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, where a bit of luxury will certainly be appreciated. However, we will no doubt be longing for those magical days in the Sea of Okhotsk before too long! We will spend the final night of the tour in a hotel in Komsomolsk.
Day 14: Departure
The tour will end this morning with breakfast before our departure flights home.