Sea of Okhotsk

The Sea of Okhotsk (Russian: Охо́тское мо́ре, tr. Okhótskoye móre, IPA: [ɐˈxot͡skəjə ˈmorʲe]; Japanese: オホーツク海, translit. Ohōtsuku-kai) is a marginal sea of the western Pacific Ocean,[1] between the Kamchatka Peninsula on the east, the Kuril Islands on the southeast, the island of Hokkaido to the south, the island of Sakhalin along the west, and a long stretch of eastern Siberian coast along the west and north. The northeast corner is the Shelikhov Gulf. The sea is named after Okhotsk, the first Russian settlement in the Far East.

Sea of Okhotsk
Sea of Okhotsk map
Map of the Sea of Okhotsk
LocationPacific Ocean
Coordinates55°N 150°E / 55°N 150°ECoordinates: 55°N 150°E / 55°N 150°E
Basin countriesRussia, Japan
Surface area1,583,000 km2 (611,200 sq mi)
Average depth859 m (2,818 ft)
Max. depth3,372 m (11,063 ft)


Shiretoko National Park
Shiretoko National Park on the Sea of Okhotsk coast of Hokkaido, Japan

The Sea of Okhotsk covers an area of 1,583,000 square kilometres (611,000 sq mi), with a mean depth of 859 metres (2,818 ft) and a maximum depth of 3,372 metres (11,063 ft). It is connected to the Sea of Japan on either side of Sakhalin: on the west through the Sakhalin Gulf and the Gulf of Tartary; on the south, through the La Pérouse Strait.

In winter, navigation on much of the Sea of Okhotsk becomes difficult or impossible due to the formation of large ice floes. This is due to the large amount of freshwater from the Amur River, lowering the salinity of upper levels, often raising the freezing point of the sea surface. The distribution and thickness of ice floes depends on many factors: the location, the time of year, water currents, and the sea temperatures.


With the exception of Hokkaido, one of the Japanese home islands, the sea is surrounded on all sides by territory administered by the Russian Federation.


The International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the Sea of Okhotsk as follows:[2]

On the Southwest. The Northeastern and Northern limits on the Japan Sea [In La Perouse Strait (Sôya Kaikyô). A line joining Sôni Misaki and Nishi Notoro Misaki (45°55'N). From Cape Tuik (51°45'N) to Cape Sushcheva].
On the Southeast. A line running from Nosyappu Saki (Cape Noshap, 43°23'N) in the Island of Hokusyû (Yezo) through the Kuril or Tisima Islands to Cape Lopatka (South point of Kamchatka) in such a way that all the narrow waters between Hokusyû and Kamchatka are included in the Sea of Okhotsk.


Some of the Sea of Okhotsk's islands are quite large, including Japan's second largest island, Hokkaido, as well as Russia's largest island, Sakhalin. Practically all of the sea's islands are either in coastal waters or belong to the various islands making up the Kuril Islands chain. These fall either under undisputed Japanese or Russian ownership or disputed ownership between Japan and Russia. Iony Island is the only island located in open waters and belongs to the Khabarovsk Krai of the Russian Federation. The majority of the sea's islands are uninhabited making them ideal breeding grounds for seals, sea lions, seabirds, and other sea island fauna. Large colonies, with over a million individuals, of crested auklets use the Sea of Okhotsk as a nesting site.


Generalkarte Russisches Reich 1792 2
Most of the Sea of Okhotsk, with the exception of the Sakhalin Island, had been well mapped by 1792


The Okhotsk culture is an archaeological coastal fishing and hunter-gatherer culture of the lands surrounding the Sea of Okhotsk (600–1000 CE in Hokkaido, until 1500 or 1600 CE in the Kurils).

Some believe that Mishihase was living in the area.

Exploration and settlement

Russian explorers Ivan Moskvitin and Vassili Poyarkov were the first Europeans to visit the Sea of Okhotsk (and, probably, the island of Sakhalin[3]) in the 1640s. The Dutch captain Maarten Gerritsz Vries in the Breskens entered the Sea of Okhotsk from the south-east in 1643, and charted parts of the Sakhalin coast and Kurile Islands, but failed to realize that either Sakhalin or Hokkaido are islands.

The first and foremost Russian settlement on the shore was the port of Okhotsk, which relinquished commercial supremacy to Ayan in the 1840s. The Russian-American Company all but monopolized the commercial navigation of the sea in the first half of the 19th century.

The Second Kamchatka Expedition under Vitus Bering systematically mapped the entire coast of the sea, starting in 1733. Jean-François de La Pérouse and William Robert Broughton were the first non-Russian European navigators known to have passed through these waters other than Maarten Gerritsz Vries. Ivan Krusenstern explored the eastern coast of Sakhalin in 1805. Mamiya Rinzō and Gennady Nevelskoy determined that the Sakhalin was indeed an island separated from the mainland by a narrow strait. The first detailed summary of the hydrology of the Okhotsk sea was prepared and published by Stepan Makarov in 1894.


The Sea of Okhotsk is one of the world's richest in biological resources, with various kinds of fish, shellfish and crabs.

The harsh conditions of crab fishing in the Sea of Okhotsk is the subject of the most famous novel of the Japanese writer Takiji Kobayashi, 'The Crab Cannery Ship' (1929).


American and European whaleships hunted whales in the sea in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They primarily caught right and bowhead whales. A number of ships were wrecked in the sea.[4][5][6][7][8][9]


During the Cold War, the Sea of Okhotsk was the scene of several successful U.S. Navy operations (including Operation Ivy Bells) to tap Soviet Navy undersea communications cables. These operations were documented in the book Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage. The sea (and surrounding area) were also the scene of the Soviet attack on Korean Air Flight 007 in 1983. The Soviet Pacific Fleet used the Sea as a ballistic missile submarine bastion,[10] a strategy that Russia continues.

In the Japanese language, the sea has no traditional Japanese name despite its close location to the Japanese territories and is called Ohōtsuku-kai (オホーツク海), which is a transcription of the Russian name. Additionally, Okhotsk Subprefecture, Hokkaidō which faces the sea, also known as Okhotsk region (オホーツク地方 Ohōtsuku-chihō), is named after the sea.

Oil and gas exploration

29 zones of possible oil and gas accumulation have been identified on the Sea of Okhotsk shelf, which runs along the coast. Total reserves are estimated at 3.5 billion tons of equivalent fuel, including 1.2 billion tons of oil and 1.5 billion cubic meters of gas.[11]

On 18 December 2011 the Russian oil drilling rig Kolskaya[12] capsized and sank in a storm in the Sea of Okhotsk, some 124 km from Sakhalin Island, where it was being towed from Kamchatka. Reportedly its pumps failed, causing it to take on water and sink. The platform carried 67 people, of which 14 were initially rescued by the icebreaker Magadan and the tugboat Natftogaz-55. The platform was subcontracted to a company working for the Russian energy giant Gazprom.[13][14][15]

Notable seaports

Buchta Nagajewa (Magadan).jpeg
Nagayevo Bay near Magadan, Russia
  • Magadan, Magadan, Russia - population: 95,000
  • Palana, Kamchatka, Russia - population: 3,000
  • Abashiri, Hokkaido, Japan - population: 38,000
  • Monbetsu, Hokkaido, Japan - population: 25,000
  • Wakkanai, Hokkaido, Japan - population: 38,000

See also


  1. ^ Kon-Kee Liu; Larry Atkinson (June 2009). Carbon and Nutrient Fluxes in Continental Margins: A Global Synthesis. Springer. pp. 331–333. ISBN 978-3-540-92734-1. Retrieved 29 November 2010.
  2. ^ "Limits of Oceans and Seas, 3rd edition" (PDF). International Hydrographic Organization. 1953. Retrieved 7 February 2010.
  3. ^ Stephan, John J. (1971), Sakhalin: a history, Clarendon Press, p. 11
  4. ^ Webb, Robert (1988). On the Northwest: Commercial Whaling in the Pacific Northwest 1790–1967. University of British Columbia Press. ISBN 0-7748-0292-8.
  5. ^ Vaughan, R. (1984). "Historical survey of the European whaling industry". In Arctic Whaling: Proceedings of the International Symposium, pp. 121-145. University of Groningen.
  6. ^ Charles W. Morgan, of New Bedford, Aug. 23-Sep. 30, 1902, George Blunt White Library (GBWL).
  7. ^ San Francisco Call (Vol. 106, No. 163, November 10, 1909).
  8. ^ Starbuck, Alexander (1878). History of the American Whale Fishery from Its Earliest Inception to the year 1876. Castle. ISBN 1-55521-537-8.
  9. ^ Thrum, T. G. (1909). Hawaiian almanac and annual for 1910. Honolulu, Black & Auld, Printers.
  10. ^ Acharya, Amitav (March 1988). "The United States Versus the USSR in the Pacific: Trends in the Military Balance". Contemporary Southeast Asia. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. 9 (4): 293. ISSN 1793-284X. JSTOR 25797972. (Subscription required (help)). Cite uses deprecated parameter |subscription= (help)
  11. ^ "Magadan Region". Kommersant, Russia's Daily Online. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  12. ^ Technical details of the rig can be found here : and here:
  13. ^ "Russian oil rig sinks, leaving many missing". CNN. December 18, 2011. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
  14. ^ "Kolskaya Sinks Offshore Russia". Rigzone. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  15. ^ "Blog Archive » Rig Kolskaya Lost". Shipwreck Log. December 18, 2011. Retrieved August 13, 2012.

External links

Bolshoy Shantar Island

Bolshoy Shantar is an island in the Sea of Okhotsk, Russia. It is the main island of the Shantar Islands. Its area is 1766 km². It is about 72 km (44.7 mi) in length and 49 km (30.4 mi) in width. It has a large brackish lake (Lake Bol'shoe) on its north side which is connected to the sea through a narrow passage. Yakshin Bay indents the southwest side of the island.

Administratively this island belongs to the Khabarovsk Krai of the Russian Federation.

Chyornye Bratya

Chyornye Bratya (Russian: Чёрные Братья, lit. Black Brothers; Japanese: 知理保以島, translit. Chiripoi-to) is collectively the name for a pair of uninhabited volcanic islands located between Simushir and Urup in the Kuril Islands chain in the Sea of Okhotsk in the northwest Pacific Ocean. The larger of the two is named Chirpoy, and the smaller is named Brat Chirpoyev (Russian for Chirpoy's Brother). The origin of the names is uncertain: the original Ainu language name of the island was Repunmoshiri, a word meaning “place of many small birds”.


Ekarma (Russian: Экарма; Japanese 越渇磨島; Ekaruma-tō) is an uninhabited volcanic island near the center of the Kuril Islands chain in the Sea of Okhotsk in the northwest Pacific Ocean, separated from Shiashkotan by the Ekarma Strait. Its name is derived from the Ainu language, from “safe anchorage”.


Kamen-Mukdykyn is a small uninhabited island in the Sea of Okhotsk, in the Russian Far East.

Konus Island

Konus Island is an island in Shelikhov Bay, Sea of Okhotsk.

Kuril Islands

The Kuril Islands or Kurile Islands (; Russian: Кури́льские острова́, tr. Kurilskiye ostrova, IPA: [kʊˈrʲilʲskʲɪjə ɐstrɐˈva] or островá Тисима; Japanese: Kuriru rettō (クリル列島, "Kuril Islands") or Chishima rettō (千島列島, "Chishima Islands")), in Russia's Sakhalin Oblast region, form a volcanic archipelago that stretches approximately 1,300 km (810 mi) northeast from Hokkaido, Japan, to Kamchatka, Russia, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the north Pacific Ocean. There are 56 islands and many minor rocks. It consists of Greater Kuril Chain and Lesser Kuril Chain. The total land area is 10,503.2 square kilometres (4,055.3 sq mi) and the total population is 19,434.All the islands are under Russian jurisdiction. Japan claims the four southernmost islands, including two of the largest (Iturup and Kunashir) as part of its territory, as well as Shikotan and the Habomai islets, which has led to the ongoing Kuril Islands dispute. The disputed islands are known in Japan as the country's "Northern Territories". In 2018 Russo-Japanese talks on reunification of islands with Japan resumed.


Makanrushi (Russian: Маканруши; Japanese 磨勘留島; Makanru-tō) is an uninhabited volcanic island located near the northern end of the Kuril Islands chain in the Sea of Okhotsk in the northwest Pacific Ocean. Its name is derived from the Ainu language.

Morskaya Matuga

Morskaya Matuga, also Ostrovok Morskaya Matuga or Motuga, is an islet in the Sea of Okhotsk, roughly 9 miles northeastward of the northern Khalpili Islet.

It is described as "a precipitous flat-topped islet".

Okhotsk Plate

The Okhotsk Plate is a minor tectonic plate covering the Sea of Okhotsk, the Kamchatka Peninsula, Sakhalin Island and Tōhoku and Hokkaidō in Japan. It was formerly considered a part of the North American Plate, but recent studies indicate that it is an independent plate, bounded on the north by the North American Plate. The boundary is a left-lateral moving transform fault, the Ulakhan Fault. On the east, the plate is bounded by the Pacific Plate at the Kuril-Kamchatka Trench and the Japan Trench, on the south by the Philippine Sea Plate at the Nankai Trough, on the west by the Eurasian Plate, and possibly on the southwest by the Amurian Plate.

Prokofyeva Island

Prokofyeva (Russian: Ostrov Prokofyeva) is a small island in the Sea of Okhotsk. It is one of the Shantar Islands. It lies to the northeast of Bolshoy Shantar Island.

Ptichy Island (Kamchatka Krai)

Ptichy Island (Russian: Ostrov Ptichy, meaning 'Bird Island') is a small island in the Sea of Okhotsk. It lies close to the mainland off the western coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula.


Raikoke (Russian: Райкоке, Japanese: 雷公計島), also spelled Raykoke, is an uninhabited volcanic island near the centre of the Kuril Islands chain in the Sea of Okhotsk in the northwest Pacific Ocean, 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) across Golovnin Strait from Matua. Its name is derived from the Ainu language, from “hellmouth”.


Rasshua (Russian: Расшуа, Japanese: 羅処和島), is an uninhabited volcanic island near the center of the Kuril Islands chain in the Sea of Okhotsk in the northwest Pacific Ocean, 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) from Ushishir and 30 kilometres (19 mi) southwest of Matua. Its name is derived from the Ainu language for “fur coat”.

Reyneke Island (Sea of Okhotsk)

Reyneke Island (Russian: Остров Рейнеке; Ostrov Reyneke) is an island in the Sea of Okhotsk, administratively part of Khabarovsk Krai, Russia. The uninhabited island lies 45 kilometres (28 miles) to the south-east of Menshikov Island, and has an area of approximately 7 kilometres (4.3 miles) in length and a maximum width of 1.6 kilometres (0.99 miles). It is a mountainous island located close to a headland of the continental shore, separated from mainland Khabarovsk Krai by a 45 kilometres (28 miles) wide sound.Reyneke Island was named after Mikhail Reyneke, Vice Admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy and an early hydrographer of the Russian Hydrographic Service in the region.

Sakhalin Island Arc

Sakhalin Island Arc is an ancient volcanic arc dating from the Early Miocene. The arc was a result of the Okhotsk Plate subducting beneath the Eurasian Plate in the convergence zone. The arc runs from mainland Asia through Sakhalin Island into central Hokkaido and the collision zone around the Daisetsuzan Volcanic Group, where the Kuril Island Arc and the Northeastern Japan Arc meet.

Shantar Islands

The Shantar Islands (Russian: Шантарские острова, translit. Shantarskiye ostrova) are a group of fifteen islands located off the northwestern shore of the Sea of Okhotsk east of Uda Gulf and north of Academy Bay. Most of the islands have rugged cliffs, but they are of moderate height; the highest point in the island group is 720 metres. The name of the island group has its origins in the Nivkh language from the word ч’андь/č’and’’ meaning "to be white". The islands are currently uninhabited.

Shantar Sea

The Shantar Sea (Russian: Шантарское море) is a small coastal sea in the northwestern Sea of Okhotsk.

It is bounded to the north by Bolshoy Shantar Island, to the east by Malyy Shantar Island, and to the south by Tugur Bay.

Tyuleny Island (Sea of Okhotsk)

Tyuleny Island (Ostrov Tyuleniy) is a small island in the Sea of Okhotsk, just east of Russia's Sakhalin island, Northeast Asia.


Ushishir (Russian: Ушишир; Japanese: 宇志知島; Ushishiru-tō; Ainu: ウシシㇼ) is an uninhabited volcanic island located in the centre of the Kuril Islands chain in the Sea of Okhotsk in the northwest Pacific Ocean. Its name is derived from the Ainu language for "hot spring".

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