Commander Islands

The Commander Islands or Komandorski Islands or Komandorskie Islands (Russian: Командо́рские острова́, Komandorskiye ostrova) are a group of treeless, sparsely-populated islands in the Bering Sea located about 175 kilometres (109 mi) east of the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East. The islands consist of Bering Island (95 kilometres (59 mi) by 15 kilometres (9.3 mi)), Medny Island (55 kilometres (34 mi) by 5 kilometres (3.1 mi)) and fifteen smaller ones (islets and rocks), the largest of which are Tufted Puffin Rock (Kamen Toporkov or Ostrov Toporkov), 15 hectares (37 acres), and Kamen Ariy, which are between 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) and 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) west of the only settlement, Nikolskoye. Administratively, they compose Aleutsky District of Kamchatka Krai in Russia.

Coordinates: 55°N 167°E / 55°N 167°E

Commander Islands

Командо́рские острова́ (Russian)
Komandorskiye ostrova
Map showing the position of the Commander Islands to the east of Kamchatka. The larger island to the west is Bering Island; the smaller island is Medny.
Map showing the position of the Commander Islands to the east of Kamchatka. The larger island to the west is Bering Island; the smaller island is Medny.
55°12′N 165°59′E / 55.200°N 165.983°E
Ethnic groups
• Total
1,846 km2 (713 sq mi)
• 2009 estimate


Detailed map including the Commander Islands

The Commander Islands are the westernmost extension of the Aleutian Islands, most of which are part of the US state of Alaska, though they are separated from the closest US island, Attu Island, and the rest of the chain by 207 miles (333 km). Between the two runs the International Date Line. The relief is somewhat diverse, encompassing folded-block mountains, volcanic plateaus, terraced plains and low mountains. The geologic origins are long-extinct volcanoes on the edge of the Pacific and North American Plates. The highest point is Steller Peak on Bering Island at 755 metres (2,477 ft). The highest point on Medny Island is Stenjeger's Peak at 647 metres (2,123 ft).

The climate is relatively mild and maritime, with frequent precipitation (220–240 days/year). The cool summers are notoriously foggy.


Nikolskoe komandor island

The only permanently inhabited locality is the village of Nikolskoye on the northwest end of Bering Island, with an estimated population of 613 as of 2009. This consists almost entirely of Russians and Aleuts.[1] The majority of the islands' area, as well as much of the adjacent marine habitat (14,088 square miles (36,488 km2)), is taken up by the Komandorsky Zapovednik, a natural preserve. The economy is based primarily on fishing, mushroom gathering, the administration of the zapovednik, ecotourism and government services.

The village has a school, a satellite tracking station and a dirt airstrip south of the village.

The other settlements on the two islands are small villages or scattering of houses:

  • Severnoye
  • Podutesnaya
  • Gladkovskeya
  • Lisennova
  • Peschanka
  • Preobrajenskoe Settlement at Peschanaya Bay on Medniy Island – abandoned
  • Glinka

Natural history

Chitrow - Seekuh, Seebaer und Seeloewe (Ausschnitt aus einer Karte)
Detail from an early map by Bering expedition member S. Khitrov of eastern Kamchatka, including the Commander Islands, with drawings of Steller's sea cow, the northern fur seal and the Steller sea lion.
О. Медный 456547
Medny Island

Due to the high productivity of the Bering Sea shelf and the Pacific slope and their remoteness from human influence, the Commander Islands are marked by a great abundance of marine animal life and a relative paucity of terrestrial organisms.[2] Notably, significant numbers of northern fur seals (some 200,000 individuals) and Steller sea lions (approximately 5,000 individuals) summer there, both on reproductive rookeries and non-reproductive haul-outs. Sea otters, common seals and larga seals are likewise abundant. Indeed, the sea otter population is stable and possibly increasing, even as their population is falling precipitously in the rest of the Aleutian islands.[3]

The neighboring waters provide important feeding, wintering and migrating habitat for many whale species, many of which are threatened or endangered. Among these are: sperm whales, orcas, several species of beaked whales and porpoises, humpbacks and endangered species such as the North Pacific right whales[2][4] and fin whales.[5]

The much less diverse terrestrial fauna includes two distinct, endemic subspecies of Arctic fox, (Alopex lagopus semenovi and A. l. beringensis). Though relatively healthy now, these populations had been significantly depleted in the past due to the fur trade. Most other terrestrial species, including wild reindeer, American mink and rats have all been introduced to the islands by man.[2]

Over a million seabirds gather to nest on numerous large colonies along almost all the coastal cliffs. The most common are northern fulmar; common, brunnich's and pigeon guillemots; horned and tufted puffins; cormorants; gulls; and kittiwakes including the extremely local red-legged kittiwake which nests in only a few other colonies in the world. Waterfowl and sandpipers are also abundant along the pre-lake depressions and river valleys of Bering Island, though largely absent from Medny Island. Migratory birds of note with critical nesting or feeding habitat on the islands include such species as Steller's eider, Pacific golden plover and Aleutian tern. Raptors of note include the rare Steller's sea eagle and gyrfalcon. In total, over 180 bird species have been registered on the Commander Islands.[6]

Бухта Буяна 1
Bering Island

The fish fauna in the mountainous, fast running streams is composed primarily of migratory salmonids, including Arctic char, Dolly Varden, black spotted trout, chinook, sockeye, coho and pink salmon.

Bering Island was the only known habitat of Steller's sea cows, an immense (over 4000 kg) sirenian similar to the manatee. The sea cow was hunted to extinction within 27 years of its discovery in 1741.[7] The spectacled cormorant, a large essentially flightless bird in the cormorant family, was similarly driven to extinction by around 1850.[8]

There is no true forest on the Commander Islands. The vegetation is dominated by lichens, mosses and different associations of marshy plants with low grass and dwarf trees. Very tall umbellifers are also common.

There are no amphibians or reptiles on the Commander Islands.[2]


Bering Island Aleuts
Group of Aleut hunters from Bering Island (c. 1884–1886)

The Commander Islands received their name from Commander Vitus Bering, whose ship St. Peter wrecked on the otherwise uninhabited Bering Island on his return voyage from Alaska in 1741. Bering died on the island along with much of the crew. His grave is marked by a modest monument. About half of the crew did manage to survive the winter, thanks in part to the abundance of wildlife (notably the newly discovered Steller's sea cow) and the efforts of naturalist and physician Georg Wilhelm Steller, who cured many of the men of scurvy by compelling them to eat seaweed.[9] Eventually, a smaller boat was built from the remains of the St. Peter and the survivors found their way back to Kamchatka, heavily laden with valuable sea otter pelts. The discovery of the sea otters sparked the great rush of fur-seeking "Promyshlenniky" which drove the Russian expansion into Alaska. Steller's sea cow, whose habitat was apparently restricted to the kelp-beds around Bering Island, was exterminated by 1768.

1966 CPA 3446
1966 Soviet postage stamp depicting Bering's second voyage and the discovery of the Commander Islands

Aleut (Unangan) people were transferred to the Commander Islands early in 1825 by the Russian-American Company from the Aleutians for the seal trade. Most of the Aleuts inhabiting Bering Island came from Atka Island and those who lived on Medny Island came from Attu Island, now both American possessions. A mixed language called Mednyj Aleut, with Aleut roots but Russian verb inflection, developed among the inhabitants. Today the population of the islands is about ⅔ Russian and ⅓ Aleut.

The 1943 Battle of the Komandorski Islands took place in the open sea about 160 kilometers (99 mi) south of the islands.[10]

See also


  1. ^ Derbeneva, OA; Sukernik, RI; Volodko, NV; Hosseini, SH; Lott, MT; Wallace, DC (2002). "Analysis of Mitochondrial DNA Diversity in the Aleuts of the Commander Islands and Its Implications for the Genetic History of Beringia". American Journal of Human Genetics. 71 (2): 415–21. doi:10.1086/341720. PMC 379174. PMID 12082644.
  2. ^ a b c d Barabash-Nikiforov, I. (November 1938). "Mammals of the Commander Islands and the Surrounding Sea". Journal of Mammalogy. 19 (4): 423–429. doi:10.2307/1374226. JSTOR 1374226.
  3. ^ Doroff, A.; J.A. Estes; M.T. Tinker; et al. (February 2003). "Sea otter population declines in the Aleutian archipelago". Journal of Mammalogy. 84 (1): 55–64. doi:10.1644/1545-1542(2003)084<0055:SOPDIT>2.0.CO;2. ISSN 1545-1542.
  4. ^ "Командорский - Японский гладкий кит Eubalaena japonica Lacepede, 1818". Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  5. ^ "Командорский - Финвал (сельдяной кит) Balaenoptera physalus (Linnaeus, 1758)". Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  6. ^ Johansen, H. (January 1961). "Revised List of the Birds of the Commander Islands". The Auk. 78 (1): 44–56. JSTOR 4082233.
  7. ^ Anderson, P. (1995). "Competition, predation, and the evolution and extinction of Steller's sea cow, Hydrodamalis gigas". Marine Mammal Science. 11 (3): 391–394. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.1995.tb00294.x.
  8. ^ BirdLife International (2004). "Phalacrocorax perspicillatus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2006. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 10 May 2006.
  9. ^ Steller, G.W. (1988). O.W. Frost, ed. Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 1741–1742. M. A. Engel; O. W. Frost (trans.). Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-2181-5.
  10. ^ Lorelli, John A. (1984) The Battle of the Komandorski Islands, March 1943. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press, ISBN 0-87021-093-9


  • Richard Ellis, Encyclopedia of the Sea, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
  • Artyukhin Yu. B. Commander Islands, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, 2005.

External links

Aleutian Islands

The Aleutian Islands (; Russian: Алеутские острова; Aleut: Tanam Unangaa, literally "Land of the Aleuts", possibly from Chukchi aliat, "island"), also called the Aleut Islands or Aleutic Islands and known before 1867 as the Catherine Archipelago, are a chain of 14 large volcanic islands and 55 smaller ones belonging to both the U.S. state of Alaska and the Russian federal subject of Kamchatka Krai. They form part of the Aleutian Arc in the Northern Pacific Ocean, occupying an area of 6,821 sq mi (17,666 km2) and extending about 1,200 mi (1,900 km) westward from the Alaska Peninsula toward the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, and mark a dividing line between the Bering Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Crossing longitude 180°, at which point east and west longitude end, the archipelago contains both the westernmost part of the United States by longitude (Amatignak Island) and the easternmost by longitude (Semisopochnoi Island). The westernmost U.S. island in real terms, however, is Attu Island, west of which runs the International Date Line. While nearly all the archipelago is part of Alaska and is usually considered as being in the "Alaskan Bush", at the extreme western end, the small, geologically related Commander Islands belong to Russia.

The islands, with their 57 volcanoes, form the northernmost part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Physiographically, they are a distinct section of the larger Pacific Border province, which in turn is part of the larger Pacific Mountain System physiographic division.

These Islands are most known for the battles and skirmishes that occurred there during the Aleutian Islands Campaign of World War II. It was one of only two attacks on the United States during that war.

Aleutsky District

Aleutsky District (Russian: Алеу́тский райо́н) is an administrative and municipal district (raion) of Kamchatka Krai, Russia, one of the eleven in the krai. It is located to the east of the Kamchatka Peninsula on the Commander Islands. The area of the district is 1,580 square kilometers (610 sq mi). Its administrative center is the rural locality (a selo) of Nikolskoye. Population: 676 (2010 Census); 808 (2002 Census); 1,356 (1989 Census). All of the district's population resides in Nikolskoye.

Benedykt Dybowski

Benedykt Tadeusz Dybowski (12 May 1833 – 31 January 1930) was a Polish naturalist and physician.

Benedykt Dybowski was born in Adamaryni of Navahrudak Uyezd of Grodno Governorate in the Russian Empire and was the brother of the Polish naturalist Władysław Dybowski and the cousin of the French explorer Jean Dybowski.

He studied at Minsk High School, and later medicine at Tartu (earlier Dorpat) University (Estonia). He later studied at Wroclaw University and went on expeditions to seek and study oceanic fishes and crustaceans. He became a Professor of Zoology at the Warsaw main school.

In 1864 he was arrested and condemned to death for taking part in the Polish January Uprising. His sentence was later reduced to 12 years in Siberia.

He started studying the natural history of Siberia and in 1866 a governor Muraviov dismissed Dybowski from hard labour (katorga), renewed his civil rights and proposed him to work as a doctor in hospital.

He later settled in the small village Kultuk and began a detailed study of Baikal Lake with some technical support from the Russian Geographical Society. He served as a medical doctor for the indigenous population of Kamchatka, the Aleutian Islands, the Commander Islands, Bering Island, making four trips per year around the populated areas there.

After returning from Asia he continued research work at Lviv University. He was a president of the Polish Copernicus Society of Naturalists (1886–87).

In 1927 the Academy of Sciences in the USSR elected Dybowski as a member-correspondent. Apart from that in 1921 Dybowski was given an honorary doctorate by the Warsaw's University, and in 1923 by the University of Wilno. On Dybowski's 95th birthday he was congratulated by the Shevchenko Scientific Society government.

Dybowski spent the last years of his life in Lwów, in his house on Kubanskaia 12. Dybowski died at the age of 97. He is buried in Lwów on the Łyczakowski Cemetery among the participants of the Polish Uprising of 1863.

Most of his collection of zoological and botanical specimens is now in the Lwów Zoological museum.

An amphipod (Gammaracanthuskytodermogammarus loricatobaicalensis), supposedly from Lake Baikal and named by him was once considered the longest scientific name. However, that name is no longer considered valid.In February 2014, traveller Jacek Pałkiewicz unvelied a memorial plaque to Dybowski in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski.

Bering Island

Bering Island (Russian: о́стров Бе́ринга, ostrov Beringa) is located off the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Bering Sea.

Cuisine of Commander Islands

Cuisine of Commander Islands (Russian: Командорская кухня) is a mixture of traditional Russian cuisine and cuisine of Aleut people, who inhabit the Commander Islands. Commander cuisine is largely based on fish meat, seafood, mushrooms, meat of sea mammals (seals, whales), game meat and vegetable (potato, onion, garlic, carrot) which was brought to the Commander island by Russians.

Kamchatka-Aleutian Triple Junction

The Kamchatka-Aleutian triple junction is a triple junction of tectonic plates of the Fault-Fault-Trench type where the Pacific Plate, the Okhotsk Plate, and the North American Plate meet. It is located east of the Kamchatka Mys peninsula and west of Bering Island. Meiji Seamount is located to the southeast of the junction.

In the Kamchatka-Aleutian junction, the Kuril–Kamchatka Trench meets the Aleutian Trench. The former is a subduction zone while the latter is a transform fault in its western part.

Kamchatka Krai

Kamchatka Krai (Russian: Камча́тский край, tr. Kamchatsky kray, IPA: [kɐmˈtɕatskʲɪj kraj]) is a federal subject (a krai) of Russia. It is geographically located in the Far East region of the country, and it is administratively part of the Far Eastern Federal District. Kamchatka Krai has a population of 322,079 (2010).Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is the largest city and capital of Kamchatka Krai, and home to over half of the krai's population.

Kamchatka Krai was formed on July 1, 2007, as a result of the merger of Kamchatka Oblast and Koryak Autonomous Okrug, based on the voting in a referendum on the issue on October 23, 2005. The okrug retains the status of a special administrative division of the krai, under the name of Koryak Okrug.

The Kamchatka Peninsula forms the majority of the krai's territory, separating the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea in the Pacific Ocean. The remainder is formed by a minor northern mainland portion, Karaginsky Island and the Commander Islands in the Bering Sea. It is bordered by Magadan Oblast to the west and Chukotka to the north. Kamchatka Krai is an active volcanic zone which is home to Kluchevskaya, the largest volcano in Eurasia, and the Decade Volcanoes of Avachinsky and Koryaksky.

Kamchatka Oblast (Russian Empire)

Kamchatka Oblast was the administrative-territorial unit of the Russian Empire.

For the first time the Kamchatka Oblast as part of the Irkutsk governorate was formed on August 23, 1803. The center of the Oblast was appointed Verkhne-Kamchatsk, on April 21, 1812, the administration of the region was transferred to Petropavlovsk harbor. In 1822 the Oblast was abolished. Instead, in the Irkutsk Governorate, the Kamchatka Maritime Administration was established with its center in Petropavlovsk.

In 1849, the Kamchatka Oblast was re-established from the Kamchatka Maritime Administration and the Gizhiginsky District of the Okhotsk Maritime Administration. However, already in 1856, the Kamchatka Oblast was abolished, and its territory became part of the Primorskaya Oblast.

By the law of June 30, 1909, the Kamchatka Oblast was created for the third time. The Oblast included Petropavlovsk, Okhotsk, Gizhiginsky, Anadyr Uyezds and the Commander Islands, separated from the Primorskaya Oblast. At the same time, in the territory of Chukotka (part of the Anadyr Uyezd) the Chukotka Uyezd was formed. In 1922, the Kamchatka Oblast was transformed into the Kamchatka Governorate.

Kamchatka Peninsula

The Kamchatka Peninsula (Russian: полуо́стров Камча́тка, Poluostrov Kamchatka, IPA: [pəlʊˈostrəf kɐmˈt͡ɕætkə]) is a 1,250-kilometre-long (780 mi) peninsula in the Russian Far East, with an area of about 270,000 km2 (100,000 sq mi). The Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk make up the peninsula's eastern and western coastlines, respectively. Immediately offshore along the Pacific coast of the peninsula runs the 10,500-metre (34,400-ft) deep Kuril–Kamchatka Trench.

The Kamchatka Peninsula, the Commander Islands, and Karaginsky Island constitute the Kamchatka Krai of the Russian Federation. The vast majority of the 322,079 inhabitants are ethnic Russians, but about 13,000 Koryaks (2014) live there as well. More than half of the population lives in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (179,526 in 2010) and nearby Yelizovo (38,980). The Kamchatka peninsula contains the volcanoes of Kamchatka, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Komandorsky Nature Reserve

Komandorsky Nature Reserve (Russian: Командо́рский госуда́рственный биосфе́рный запове́дник) is a zapovednik (nature reserve) located on the Commander Islands, Kamchatka Krai, Russia.

The total area of the preserve is 3,648,679 ha (36,648 km2) of which 2,177,398 ha (21,774 km2) are marine buffer zone. The land territory includes most of Bering Island, all of Medny Island, as well as thirteen smaller islands and rocks. It was created in 1993 to protect the diverse ecosystems of the Commander Islands and the surrounding marine waters of the Bering Sea and northern Pacific Ocean.

Because of its isolation and the high productivity of the Bering Sea and the Pacific continental shelf, the reserve is marked by a great diversity of animal life. It is a refuge for over a million seabirds, several hundred thousand northern fur seals, several thousand Steller's sea lions, common seals, and spotted seals, a healthy population of sea otter, some 21 whale species, two rare endemic subspecies of Arctic fox, and many endangered or threatened migratory birds, such as the whooper swan, Steller's eider, and Steller's sea eagle. Furthermore, it is biogeographically unique stepping stone between Asian and North American flora and fauna.

Fishing is entirely prohibited within the 50 km (31 mi) buffer zone surrounding the preserve.

An additional stated purpose of the preserve is to foster the ecologically and culturally sustainable development of the only inhabited settlement on the Commander Islands, the village of Nikolskoye (pop. approximately 750 as of 2007).

The site is being prepared for inscription to the World Heritage List.

Kuril–Kamchatka Trench

The Kuril–Kamchatka Trench or Kuril Trench (Russian: Курило-Камчатский жёлоб, Kurilo-Kamchatskii Zhyolob) is an oceanic trench in the northwest Pacific Ocean. It lies off the southeast coast of Kamchatka and parallels the Kuril Island chain to meet the Japan Trench east of Hokkaido. It extends from a triple junction with the Ulakhan Fault and the Aleutian Trench near the Commander Islands, Russia, in the northeast, to the intersection with the Japan Trench in the southwest.The trench formed as a result of the subduction zone, which formed in the late Cretaceous, that created the Kuril island arc as well as the Kamchatka volcanic arc. The Pacific Plate is being subducted beneath the Okhotsk Plate along the trench, resulting in intense volcanism.

Leonhard Stejneger

Leonhard Hess Stejneger (30 October 1851 – 28 February 1943) was a Norwegian-born American ornithologist, herpetologist and zoologist. Stejneger specialized in vertebrate natural history studies. He gained his greatest reputation with reptiles and amphibians.

Medny Island

Medny Island (Russian: о́стров Ме́дный), also spelled Mednyy or Mednyi, sometimes called Copper Island in English, is the smaller (after Bering Island) of the two main islands in the Commander Islands in the North Pacific Ocean, east of Kamchatka, Russia. (The other fifteen are better described as islets and rocks.) These islands belong to the Kamchatka Krai of the Russian Federation.

The island was uninhabited until the late 19th century, when Aleuts came from Attu Island in the Aleutian Islands to Medny Island.

The island is 56 km long and between 5 and 7 km wide and its area is 186 km². Its maximum elevation is 640 m and the average annual temperature is +2.8 °C. About 100 meters off the northwestern end of the islands are the Beaver Stones (Бобровые камни in Russian), two islets connected by an isthmus, with a combined length of 1 km.

Near Islands

The Near Islands or Sasignan Islands (Aleut: Sasignan tanangin) are the smallest and westernmost group of the Aleutian Islands in northwestern US State of Alaska. They are located within the Aleutian Island chain to the west of the Rat Islands but to the east of the Russian Commander Islands.

Nikolskoye Airport

Nikolskoye Airport (Russian: Аэропорт Никольское) (ICAO: UHPX) is an airport on Bering Island, Russia located four kilometers southeast of Nikolskoye, Kamchatka Krai. It is the only airfield on the Commander Islands. The airport has no significant military use.

Red-legged kittiwake

The red-legged kittiwake (Rissa brevirostris) is a seabird species in the gull family Laridae. It breeds in the Pribilof Islands, Bogoslof Island and Buldir Island in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska, and the Commander Islands, Russia and spends the winter at sea.

Sea Lion Rock

Sea Lion Rock (Russian: Сивучий Камень, Sivuchiy Kamen), is a rock islet in the Commander Islands archipelago, in the Bering Sea, the Russian Far East.

It is located near the Kamchatka Peninsula, in Kamchatka Krai, Russia.

Sea Otter Rocks

Sea Otter Rocks (Russian: Камни Бобровые, Kamni Bobrovyye) are rock islets of the Commander Islands archipelago in the Bering Sea, Russia.

They are within Kamchatka Krai, in the Russian Far East.

Steller's sea cow

Steller's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) is an extinct sirenian discovered by Europeans in 1741. At that time, it was found only around the Commander Islands in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia; its range was more extensive during the Pleistocene epoch, and it is possible that the animal and humans previously interacted. Some 18th-century adults would have reached weights of 8–10 t (8.8–11.0 short tons) and lengths up to 9 m (30 ft).

It was a part of the order Sirenia and a member of the family Dugongidae, of which its closest living relative, the 3 m (9.8 ft) long dugong (Dugong dugon), is the sole surviving member. It had a thicker layer of blubber than other members of the order, an adaptation to the cold waters of its environment. Its tail was forked, like that of cetaceans. Lacking true teeth, it had an array of white bristles on its upper lip and two keratinous plates within its mouth for chewing. It fed mainly on kelp, and communicated with sighs and snorting sounds. Evidence suggests it was a monogamous and social animal living in small family groups and raising its young, similar to extant sirenians.

Steller's sea cow was named after Georg Wilhelm Steller, a naturalist who discovered the species in 1741 on Vitus Bering's Great Northern Expedition when the crew became shipwrecked on Bering Island. Much of what is known about its behavior comes from Steller's observations on the island, documented in his posthumous publication On the Beasts of the Sea. Within 27 years of discovery by Europeans, the slow-moving and easily caught mammal was hunted into extinction for its meat, fat, and hide.

Islands in the Bering Sea

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