Kamchatka wildlife

What to look out for

Polar bears

The world’s largest land predator can be found in Chukotka and Wrangel Island, north of the peninsula - but this cuddly-looking creature is anything but. Weighing up to 550kg, they feed mainly on the blubber of seals, which they catch when the seal pops up through a breathing hole in the sea ice. The bears must follow the ice; the seals live at sea, and catching a swimming seal is near impossible. Trapped or beached whales provide a rare but welcome feast – if a carcass is spotted, your ship will likely make a diversion to see if any polar bears are feeding on it.

Brown bears

Sliding down dusty slopes of cooled lava to circle the edge of a hot spring, or patrolling the water’s edge for salmon and then stopping and standing bolt upright looking directly at you, you can almost imagine the brown bear, arms folded, all at once looking like an, admittedly massive, teddy bear, but with a tough ‘I know you’re there’ glare fixed in their big brown eyes. Majestic, intimidating and extraordinary all rolled into one.

Grey whales

Grey whales are huge mammals as old as time itself, which have been hunted to near extinction more than once, but have luckily fought back and are now protected under international law.

One of the animal kingdom’s most prolific migrators, they travel in pods swimming an annual round trip of over 19,000km from their summer home in Alaskan waters to warmer waters off the Mexican coast. Like all whales, the barnacle-covered grey whale has to surface to breathe, so migrating groups are easier to spot and if you’re lucky you can catch a glimpse of them feeding just metres from Kamchatka’s Kolyuchin Inlet.

Pacific walrus

Most people’s first impression of a walrus is how astonishingly large they are – up to 3.5m long and rearing up to shoulder-height. Their distinctive tusks help them haul their blubbery bodies out of the water and onto slippery ice, but can also be used in combat by aggressive males guarding their harem during the mating season. Pacific walrus in Russia migrate seasonally from the southern range in the Bering Sea – where they can be seen drifting on ice floes – to the Chukchi Sea.
Photo credits: [Polar bears: M Kelly, Heritage Expeditions] [Brown bears: Etan, Heritage Expeditions] [Walrus: A Breniere, Heritage Expeditions] [Gray Whale: Samuel Blanc, Heritage Expeditions]
Written by Polly Humphris
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