Japan, The Kuril Islands, Kamchatka, The Aleutians, The Pribilofs
and Alaska



31 May to 22 June 2002

included hundreds of thousands of auklets in a given day, hundreds of Laysan Albatrosses in view at one time, and two separate Short-tailed Albatrosses  

 This is an abridged version of the full report written by Tony Pym
 and sent to those who came on this cruise

Map of area - click here
Friday 31 May – 4 June
Birding pretour in Japan

Tuesday 4 June
…. boarded what was to be 'home' for the next 16 nights. Formalities included clearing Japanese emigration, and checking-in with our passports and cruise vouchers. A welcoming glass, or two, of champagne was appreciated before being shown to our cabins. We set sail at 1930, tomorrow we would be in Russian waters.

Wednesday 5 June
….I awoke very early and was out onto the deck at 0600. John was already up and about. A number of new seabirds started appearing but all were species the group would encounter later. At 0730 we dropped anchor at Kunashir Island. This was to allow Russian officials aboard to give the ship clearance into Russian waters.

….We were soon underway and many guests began seawatching, particularly from the bow decks. We started to become focussed on seabirds – the first Rhinoceros Auklets, comical-looking Tufted Puffins, and then shearwaters – tens of thousands of Short-tailed Shearwaters!

….During the day the fog came, and went just as quickly. Northern Fulmars started appearing, most in a unique plumage colour of light coffee (maybe a distinct species as the bill is narrower than the Atlantic form), but now and again the white phase that we were more used to in the Atlantic (this was to prove a rare colour here in the Pacific).

….We arrived at the island of Iturup. The zodiacs were lowered for the first landing of the cruise. We set foot on Russian soil for the first time (Russian at present anyway, as Japan still claims these islands which have been occupied since the second World War). Anyway, it certainly looked Russian. Old wooden buildings now dilapidated, and the grey Town Hall made of concrete slabs with paint peeling from the walls. The town was in dire need of some maintenance, and therefore investment.

Thursday 6 June
….Most of our group was on the bow decks by 0700 and seawatching. We had the island of Chernye Brat'ya on our starboard. The blows from whales could be seen - the distinct forward blow meant only one species, the Sperm Whale. We probably had some 20 in number of these Moby Dick’s, but they were spread out over quite a distance. These were in view for about an hour during which two were close to the ship, when the ‘bull head’ and even the ‘orange-peel’ wrinkled skin could be seen well. Groups of Tufted Puffins were flying to both sides and even occasionally over the ship. There were still hordes of Short-tailed Shearwaters and a few were lucky to see a couple of Flesh-footed Shearwaters. In the distance two small groups of auklets went shooting away looking like wader flocks - probably Crested Auklets, these would need better views to identify more firmly.

….We arrived at Chirpoy where the planned landing on the beach had to be aborted due to the swell. However the Expedition Leader offered a zodiac cruise around the leeward side of the island. From the ship we could see a few Horned Puffins and what we thought were Spectacled Guillemots. We found our 'Spectacled Guillemots' again when on our zodiac cruise. These birds were dark winged but had no ‘spectacles’! What other guillemot could these be? Reference to Harrison's 'Seabirds' gave us the answer - the snowi race of Pigeon Guillemot, which has no white wing panels as normally associated with that species.

….We headed back to the ship for lunch. Three adult White-tailed Eagles circled high overhead as we reboarded the ship. There was a dash from the lunch tables when the bridge announced that a pod of Orcas (Killer Whales) were ahead. Two family groups were seen. One pod of at least twelve animals containing three adult males was close to the ship. They were actively feeding - circling fish, even two of the pod started tail-lobbing to scare the fish into tight shoals. We had excellent views of these awesome mammals, and hopefully some good photographs.

….We sailed to Ostrova Broutona. The numbers of Fulmars that were circling the grassy slopes numbered thousands. In amongst them were lower numbers of Kittiwakes and Brunnich's Guillemots. Small numbers of Crested Auklets flew away ahead of the ship still giving overall poor views but we would be seeing many more of this species later in the cruise

….A zodiac cruise along the shoreline produced seven Harlequin Ducks. One pair flew towards our group’s zodiac when the male’s remarkable head colour and pattern could be seen. Is it any wonder their scientific name is Histrionicus, meaning ‘the actor’?
Left - Tufted Puffin