• Alex

The Shantar Islands - swimming with whales

Swimming with whales sounds like a dream for many adventure seekers, and if you come to Russia, this dream may can true. I mean, not only watching their fins somewhere in the distance but actually sailing right next to a 20-meter whale. And Shantar Islands are one of the best places in Russia and around the world to have that experience!

Shantar Islands

Shantar Islands are a group of 15 islands in the Russian Far East. Most islands have rugged cliffs of moderate height, with the highest point in the island group being 720 meters. The largest island in the group is Bolshoy Shatar Island, with an area of almost 1800 square km. Part of the territory of the islands is covered with spruce forests.

Today, the islands are part of the Shantar Islands National Park, created with the support of WWF and other international organizations.

The Shantar Islands on the map
The Shantar Islands on the map

Not many know about this remote island group, which is freed from ice only for a couple of months a year. The islands are uninhabited and nature remained almost intact there. Only about 300 people visit the place annually, these are mostly commercial fishermen and tour groups.

The area around Shantar Islands is home to many marine mammals, such as whales, sea lions, seals, salmon, and more. You might also see brown bears on some islands. There are large bird colonies, including some endangered species, such as Blakiston's fish owl, black stork, Steller's sea eagle, the Siberian grouse, and many more.

Swimming with whales

People that visit the islands mostly chase a dream to see a whale or even swim next to one. As travelers say, it feels like an otherworldly experience as if you connect with another civilization. Some seasoned travelers believe that Shantar Islands are the best place in the world to watch whales, as they come very close to the shore so people can even capture them with their smartphones.

If you visit Shantar Islands, you might be able to encounter bowhead whales. They are real giants and the most northern whales in the world, also known as Polar or Arctic whales. This name is due to the fact that bowhead whales live beyond the Arctic Circle. They can live up to 200 years or even more. The local whales are calm and may let people sail close by and take amazing pictures.

A whale at sunset
A whale at sunset

How to get to Shantar Islands

The closest place you can fly to see the Islands is Khabarovsk. However, it’s only the start of the journey, as you’ll have then to change means of transport several times. The easiest way to visit Shantar Islands is by joining a guided tour group.

How much does it cost to visit Shantar Islands

Pricing for such a trip is about $2,000 per 15 days, with accommodation and transfers within the city included. It’s noteworthy that many tour operators fight whale capturing in the region and organize ecotours to draw the attention of more people to the problem. Your contribution matters!

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