Sea Otters!

Location: Kuril Islands - Paramushir Island

Day 5
by Wayne Brown

After exploring the Ptichi Islands the Odyssey is now passing by Paramushir Island. Paramushir is the largest on the Northern Kuril Islands. It has the largest village in the Kuril Islands, called Severo-Kurilsk. Paramushir is one of the few inhabited Kuril Islands. A long time ago ancient people, called the Ainu (Eye-new), lived on these islands. They survived by fishing and hunting seals, sea otters, and bears. As the Russians and Japanese moved into the Kuril Islands the Ainu there moved out. Now most of the Kuril Islands have no people living on them.

We are passing through the Kuril Strait from the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Okhotsk (Oak-hoatsk). This is a narrow channel between Shumshu Island and Paramushir Island. At the narrowest point the channel is about a mile (1.6 kilometers) wide. As we pass through the strait between the islands I can see animals in the water. I get my binoculars and I can see that we are surrounded by sea otters! I can count over 60 sea otters bobbing in the water all around the ship! Most of the sea otters are just floating on top of the water curiously watching our ship pass by. The sea otters floating in front of us swim quickly to get out of our way. Some of the sea otters are mothers with their babies. These mothers lay on their backs with their cute little babies curled up on their chests.

The otters I am watching are Asian sea otters. Asian sea otters only live in the Kuril Islands and along the east coast of Kamchatka. Asian sea otters look like California sea otters, but they can grow a little bit bigger. Asian sea otters can grow up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) long and weigh up to 80 pounds (36 kilograms). These sea otters seem to be perfectly comfortable floating on their backs in this cold water. Unlike the harbor seals we saw yesterday (DAY 4) sea otters don't have a layer of blubber to keep them warm. Sea otters have a thick coat of fur that keeps them warm. Sea otters have thicker fur than any sea or land animal in the world! In one square inch of their bodies sea otters have over 700,000 hairs! (That is about as much hair as all the kids in your class have on their heads combined!) Sea otters are always cleaning their fur and blowing air into it. They do this to keep their fur clean and fluffy. The air trapped in their fur helps them float and stay warm. I am probably seeing all these sea otters because there must be lots of food for them here. Sea otters eat crabs, mollusks and sea urchins.

This must be a good place for people to look for food, too! We pass by a large Russian fishing boat that is stopped here in the strait. There must be lots of fish here.

I can see the village of Severo-Kurlisk (Sever-oh Kur-illsk) in the distance along the edge of the island. The beaches I see are all black sand from volcanic ash and rock. There are three volcanoes that are still active on this island. Unfortunately we don't have time to stop in the village and look around. I did visit the village when I was here in 1992. I was hoping I could visit again and try to find some of the kids I met when I was here before. Now that they are grown up I wanted to see if they are still living there and what they are doing. If they are like their parents they are probably fishing. Most of the people in the village fish or work in the fish processing factory.

From Odyssey I can see some new buildings. The large buildings I see are apartments. Most of the people here live in apartments, so I guess more people are living here now. When I was here nine years ago there were about 2,000 people living there. Sergey Frolov tells me that there are now over 2,500 people living there.

Today is cold and foggy as it usually is in the Kuril Islands in the summer. It never gets very warm here. I can see there is snow still on the hills near the village. I can also see at least eight old, rusting shipwrecks on the beach by the village. When I visited the village before I had a close-up look at these shipwrecks. These ships all got wrecked at the same time. On November 5, 1952, an underwater earthquake created a gigantic wave, called a tsunami (sue-NAM-ee). This tsunami smashed into this island and caused lots of damage. Back then over 6,000 people lived here. The tsunami crashed into the village, smashed the small, rickety wooden houses and washed the people and houses into the sea. Thousands of people died. The ships that were anchored in the sea nearby got pushed up onto the beach and wrecked. These are the ships that are still on the beach today. After the tsunami the people that survived built their wooden houses up on the side of a hill so they would be above the highest tsunami and would not be wrecked next time. Above the fish processing factory I can see some of the old houses that were rebuilt on the side of the hill.

I'm glad to see that the village looks like it is growing and doing fine. I hope I can come back here again next year and visit the village.

Tomorrow join me as I visit a small island that is made of tallest and most active volcano in the Kuril Islands.

"Dah svee-dahn-yah" (Good-bye)


Paramushir Island, Russia

Position: 50º 30' N / 156º 01' E
Midday Air Temp: 54ºF
Weather: fog and gentle swell.
Water Temp: 38ºF

Paramushir is one of the largest Kuril Islands. (See the snow on the tops of some of the volcanoes.) The Kuril Strait is between Paramushir and Shumshu Islands. (NASA photo)

This sea otter has its paws over its eyes and is taking a nap. The air in the otter's thick fur helps it float easily on top of the water.

This is a large Russian fishing boat I saw going by.

Severo-Kurilsk, Paramushir Island. Notice the old, rusting shipwrecks on the beach. Can you see the snow on the hills?

A large fishing trawler is docked at the fish processing factory. Behind, on the side of the hill are some of the houses that were rebuilt up high after the tsunami of 1952. In front two gulls fly over the water.


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