Location: Russian Kuril Islands - Ptichi Islands
by Wayne Brown
Clipper Odyssey has traveled all night from Russkia Bay and we have arrived in the Kuril Islands. The Kuril Islands follow the edge of the Pacific "Ring of Fire", so these islands are all volcanic. The Kuril Islands have been made by underwater volcanoes that have grown taller and taller until the tops of the volcanoes stuck out of the water. The Kuril Islands are all the tops of underwater volcanoes.
We are in the northern Kuril Islands on our way south to Japan. The Kuril Islands are a 750 mile (1,200 kilometer) string of about 56 islands. Right now we are 180 miles (288 kilometers) south of Petropavlosk and Odyssey has anchored at the Ptichi (Ptee-chee) Islands. These two tiny islands are so small you could walk across each of them in just a few minutes. The sea has a swell which makes small waves on the shores of the islands. We are using our Zodiacs to visit these islands. We cannot go ashore because the islands are too rocky to land our Zodiacs.
It is cold and foggy, so I am wearing my parka, rain pants, hat and rubber boots today. I am driving my Zodiac close to these little islands to see what kind of animals I can find living here. As I approach these islands I can see that they are made of dark volcanic basalt rock that rise up out of the cold dark sea. The islands are surrounded by black rocks and black sand and are topped with grass and bright yellow flowers, called Kamchatka Tiger Lilies. As I get closer to the islands birds are flying all around my boat! These sea birds nest here during the summer before they fly out to sea where they spend most of their lives. The birds I can see are slatey-back gulls, pelagic cormorants, spectacled guillemots, and (my favorite) tufted puffins.
Tufted puffins grow to about 15 inches ( 381 millimeters) tall. A tufted puffin has a shiny black body, white face and beautiful tufts of off-white feathers that curl over its eyes and back along its head like some wild hairdo. Their orange and yellow beaks and white faces are what give puffins their nicknames "sea parrots" and "clowns of the sea". These sea birds spend most of their lives on the water, coming ashore only to breed and raise their single puffling each year.
Puffins are funny to watch. They look like they are trying too hard to fly. Puffins have short, stubby wings and they flap them furiously when they fly. These wings are stubby to allow the puffins to use them to "fly" underwater to catch fish. On the surface of the water the puffins scoot along like little motorboats. Suddenly they disappear under the water. After several seconds they pop back to the surface with little silvery fish hanging out of their mouths.
As I watch the puffins all around me on the island, in the air and in water, I see someone also is watching me! It's a harbor seal! Actually there is more than one harbor seal watching me. I see their heads popping up around my boat . People don't usually visit these islands and these harbor seals want to know who we are and what we are doing. These harbor seals are curious, but aren't too sure about us. Every time I move my boat toward them they disappear underwater and then reappear somewhere else a little further away.
I can see the harbor seals have large eyes. Their eyes are large to help them see in the dark waters here. It would be fun to get in the water to play with these seals, but the water is way too cold for me. The fur coat the harbor seal has is not thick enough to keep the seals warm in these cold waters. Fortunately harbor seals have a thick layer of blubber, like whales have, which helps them stay warm.
All the birds and seals I am seeing are here came for the fish that live in these waters. The waters around the Kurils Islands are fillled with fish. These fish are food for all the animals I see around these islands. These fish are also food for people, too. Russian fishermen come here for the great fishing. The fish that are caught in the Kuril Islands are sold all throughout Russia.
Suddenly I hear a loud noise. The captain has blown Odyssey's horn. That means it's time for all Zodiacs to come back to the ship. As I head back to the ship I am excited to be back in the Kuril Islands after first seeing these islands nine years ago. I am hoping that the weather will get better. I would like to see the sun and have it warm up a little.
I am looking forward to tomorrow as we visit more places and have a chance to go ashore on these mysterious islands.
"Dah svee-dahn-yah" (Good-bye)
Ptichi Islands, Russia
Position: 50º 31' N / 156º 06' E
Midday Air Temp: 54ºF
Weather: fog and gentle swell.
Water Temp: 38ºF
In the Russian Kuril Islands the Ptichi Islands are just off the northeast coast of Paramushir Island. The islands are so tiny they really can't be seen in this photo from the Space Shuttle. (NASA photo)
The Ptichi islands are volcanic rocks that stick out of the sea. These tiny islands are only about 100-200 feet (30-60 meters) across.
At the island I see tufted puffins standing on a rock and flying in the air
Near the rocks on the island I see two harbor seals. One is looking at me. The other is looking in the opposite direction.
At the end of our exploration by Zodiac we come back to Odyssey where a cup of hot chocolate is waiting for us. (You can see two Zodiacs at the back of the ship.)