Sea of Okhotsk

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Sea of Okhotsk
Sea of Okhotsk map with state labels.png
Map of the Sea of Okhotsk
Location North Asia and East Asia
Coordinates 55°N150°E / 55°N 150°E / 55; 150 Coordinates: 55°N150°E / 55°N 150°E / 55; 150
Type Sea
Basin  countries Japan and Russia
Surface area1,583,000 km2 (611,200 sq mi)
Average depth859 m (2,818 ft)
Max. depth3,372 m (11,063 ft)

The Sea of Okhotsk (Russian:Охо́тское мо́ре, tr. Okhótskoye mórepronounced  [ɐˈxot͡skəjə ˈmorʲe] ; [lower-alpha 1] Japanese : オホーツク海, romanized: Ohōtsuku-kai) is a marginal sea of the western Pacific Ocean. [1] It is located between Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula on the east, the Kuril Islands on the southeast, Japan's island of Hokkaido on the south, the island of Sakhalin along the west, and a 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 full map Sea-of-Okhotsk-Full-Map-Hokkaido-Kuril-Kamchatka-Sakhalin.png
Sea of Okhotsk full map

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 the Sea of Okhotsk is impeded by ice floes. [2] Ice floes form 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. [3]

Cold air from Siberia forms sea ice in the northwestern Sea of Okhotsk. As the ice forms it expels salt into the deeper layers. This heavy water flows east toward the Pacific carrying oxygen and nutrients, supporting abundant sea life. The Sea of Okhotsk has warmed in some places by as much as 3 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times, three times faster than the global mean. Warming inhibits the formation of sea ice and also drives fish populations north. The salmon catch on the northern Japanese coast has fallen 70% in the last 15 years, while the Russian chum salmon catch has quadrupled. [4]

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. South Sakhalin and the Kuril islands were administered by Japan until 1945. Japan claims the southern Kuril islands and refers to them as "northern territories". [5]


The International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the Sea of Okhotsk as follows: [6]

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.


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


The Okhotsk people and the later Ainu culture, a coastal fishing and hunter-gatherer people, were located around the lands surrounding the Sea of Okhotsk, as well as in northern Japan. [7]

European 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 [8] ) 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 Sakhalin was indeed an island separated from the mainland by a narrow strait. The first detailed summary of the hydrology of the Sea of Okhotsk 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 19th and early 20th centuries. They primarily caught right and bowhead whales. A number of ships were wrecked in the sea. [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14]


South Sakhalin was administered by Japan as Karafuto Prefecture from 1907 to 1949. The Kuril islands were Japanese from 1855 and 1875 till the end of World War II in 1945. Afterward the Soviet Union occupied the territory.

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, [15] 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. [16]

On 18 December 2011, the Russian oil drilling rig Kolskaya [17] capsized and sank in a storm in the Sea of Okhotsk, some 124 km (77 mi) 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 rescued by the Magadan and the tugboat Natftogaz-55. The platform was subcontracted to a company working for the Russian energy giant Gazprom. [18] [19] [20]

Notable seaports

See also


  1. Historically, also known as Russian:Ламутское мо́ре, tr. Lamutskoye móre or as Russian:Камчатское мо́ре, tr. Kamchatskoye móre

Related Research Articles

Sakhalin Russian island in North Pacific Ocean

Sakhalin is the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago and the largest island of the Russian Federation. It is situated in the North Pacific Ocean between 45°50' and 54°24' N, and is sandwiched between the Sea of Okhotsk to the east and the Sea of Japan to the west. It is administered as part of Sakhalin Oblast. Sakhalin, which is about one third the size of Honshu, is just off the Russian Pacific coast, and just north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The population of Sakhalin Island was 497,973 as of the 2010 census, made up of mostly ethnic Russians and a smaller Korean community. The indigenous peoples of the island are the Ainu, Oroks and Nivkhs. Derived from the Manchu word Sahaliyan, the island of Sakhalin was home to indigenous peoples including the Ainu. Sakhalin was once part of China during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, although Chinese control was lax at times. Sakhalin was later claimed by both Russia and Japan over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. These disputes sometimes involved military conflicts and divisions of the island between the two powers. In 1875, Japan ceded its claims to Russia in exchange for the northern Kuril Islands. In 1905, following the Russo-Japanese War, the island was divided, with the south going to Japan. Russia has held all of the island since seizing the Japanese portion—as well as all the Kuril Islands—in the final days of World War II in 1945. Japan no longer claims any of Sakhalin, although it does still claim the southern Kuril Islands. Most Ainu on Sakhalin moved to Hokkaido, 43 kilometres (27 mi) to the south across the La Pérouse Strait, when the Japanese were displaced from the island in 1949.

La Pérouse Strait

La Pérouse Strait, or Sōya Strait, is a strait dividing the southern part of the Russian island of Sakhalin from the northern part of the Japanese island of Hokkaidō, and connecting the Sea of Japan on the west with the Sea of Okhotsk on the east.

Strait of Tartary Strait dividing Sakhalin from mainland Asia

Strait of Tartary or Gulf of Tartary is a strait in the Pacific Ocean dividing the Russian island of Sakhalin from mainland Asia, connecting the Sea of Okhotsk on the north with the Sea of Japan on the south. It is 632 kilometres (393 mi) long, 7–342 kilometres (4.3–212.5 mi) wide, and less than 210 m (690 ft) deep at its deepest point.

Sea of Japan Marginal sea between Japan, Russia and Korea

The Sea of Japan(see below for other names) is the marginal sea between the Japanese archipelago, Sakhalin, the Korean Peninsula, and the Russian mainland. The Japanese archipelago separates the sea from the Pacific Ocean. Like the Mediterranean Sea, it has almost no tides due to its nearly complete enclosure from the Pacific Ocean. This isolation also affects faunal diversity and salinity, both of which are lower than in the open ocean. The sea has no large islands, bays or capes. Its water balance is mostly determined by the inflow and outflow through the straits connecting it to the neighboring seas and the Pacific Ocean. Few rivers discharge into the sea and their total contribution to the water exchange is within 1%.

Kuril Islands Island chain located in Northeast Asia

The Kuril Islands or Kurile Islands is a volcanic archipelago part of Sakhalin Oblast in the Russian Far East. It stretches approximately 1,300 km (810 mi) northeast from Hokkaido in Japan to Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the north Pacific Ocean. There are 56 islands and many minor rocks. The Kuril Islands consist of the Greater Kuril Chain and the Lesser Kuril Chain. They cover an area of around 10,503.2 square kilometres (4,055.3 sq mi), with a population of roughly 20,000.

North Pacific right whale Species of mammal

The North Pacific right whale is a very large, thickset baleen whale species that is extremely rare and endangered.

Atlasov Island Northernmost island of the Kuril islands

Atlasov Island, known in Russian as Ostrov Atlasova (Остров Атласова), or in Japanese as Araido (阿頼度島), is the northernmost island and volcano and also the highest volcano of the Kuril islands, part of the Sakhalin Oblast in Russia. The Russian name is sometimes rendered in English as Atlasova Island. Other names for the island include Uyakhuzhach, Oyakoba and Alaid, the name of the volcano on the island.

Kamchatka Peninsula 1,250-kilometre-long peninsula in the Russian Far East

The Kamchatka Peninsula is a 1,250-kilometre-long (777 mi) peninsula in the Russian Far East, with an area of about 270,000 km2 (104,248 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-deep (34,449 ft) Kuril–Kamchatka Trench.

Kuril–Kamchatka Trench Oceanic trench in the northwest Pacific

The Kuril–Kamchatka Trench or Kuril Trench 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.

Okhotsk Plate Minor tectonic plate including the Sea of Okhotsk, the Kamchatka Peninsula, Sakhalin Island, Tōhoku and Hokkaidō

The Okhotsk Plate is a minor tectonic plate covering the Kamchatka Peninsula, Magadan Oblast, and Sakhalin Island of Russia; Hokkaido, Kantō and Tōhoku regions of Japan; the Sea of Okhotsk, as well as the disputed Kuril Islands. 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 on the southwest by the Amurian Plate.


Urup is an uninhabited volcanic island in the Kuril Islands chain in the south of the Sea of Okhotsk, northwest Pacific Ocean. Its name is derived from the Ainu language word for salmon trout. It was formerly known as Company's Land.


Paramushir, is a volcanic island in the northern portion of Kuril Islands chain in the Sea of Okhotsk in the northwest Pacific Ocean. It is separated from Shumshu by the very narrow Second Kuril Strait in the northeast 2.5 km (1.6 mi), from Antsiferov by the Luzhin Strait to the southwest, from Atlasov in the northwest by 20 km (12 mi), and from Onnekotan in the south by the 40 km (25 mi) wide Fourth Kuril Strait. Its northern tip is 39 km (24 mi) from Cape Lopatka at the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Its name is derived from the Ainu language, from “broad island” or “populous island”. Severo-Kurilsk, the administrative center of the Severo-Kurilsky district, is the only permanently populated settlement on Paramushir island.


Onekotan 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 for "large village”. It is the second largest island, after Paramushir, in the northern subgroup of the Kurils. It is administratively included in the Severo-Kurilsky District of Sakhalin oblast, Russia.


Chirinkotan 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 "mudslide". It is located 3 kilometres west of Ekarma, its nearest neighbor.


Makanrushi 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.


Shumshu is the second-northernmost island of the Kuril Islands chain, which divides the Sea of Okhotsk from the northwest Pacific Ocean. The name of the island is derived from the Ainu language, meaning "good island". It is separated from Paramushir by the very narrow Second Kuril Strait in the northeast 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi), and its northern tip is 11 kilometres (6.8 mi), from Cape Lopatka at the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The island has a seasonal population of around 100 inhabitants.

Maarten Gerritsz Vries

Maarten Gerritszoon Vries, or Fries, also referred to as de Vries, was a 17th-century Dutch cartographer and explorer, the first Western European to leave an account of his visit to Ezo, Sakhalin, Kuril Islands and the Sea of Okhotsk.

<i>Kolskaya</i> (jack-up rig)

Kolskaya was a jack-up rig operating in the Russian Far East. It was built by Rauma-Repola in Pori, Finland in 1985 and was owned by the Russian company ArktikmorNeftegazRazvedka (AMNGR), a subsidiary of Zarubezhneft.

Japan–Russia border International border

The Japan–Russia border is the de facto maritime boundary that separates the territorial waters of the two countries. According to the Russia border agency, the border's length is 194.3 km (120.7 mi).

Mongol invasions of Sakhalin

From 1264 to 1308, the Mongol Empire made several incursions into the island of Sakhalin off the east coast of Siberia to aid their Nivkh allies against the Ainu, who had been expanding north from Hokkaido. The Ainu put up a tenacious resistance, even launching a counter-attack on Mongol positions on the continent across the Strait of Tartary in 1297, but finally capitulated to the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty of China in 1308.


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