The Commander Islands

The Commander Islands, discovered by the expedition of Vitus Bering in 1741, are the western ending of the Commander-Aleutian Ridge.
They consist of two large islands – Bering Island, Medny Island, and two small islands – Toporkov and Ary. Kamen.

The islands are reachable from Petropavlovsk either by small plane or by boat. But both
methods may be unreliable due to capricious weather. The only inhabited settlement on the archipelago – Nikolskoye village – is located on
Bering Island. Medny has been abandoned but evidence still remains of the formerly populated Preobrazhenskoye village with a few ruined buildings. The largest part of the islands’
territory and their aquatory belong to Komandorsky Federal Nature Reserve established to preserve the virgin nature of these unique lands.
What makes the archipelago unrivaled, and why is its nature considered pristine? What attracts
hundreds of tourists who come here annually from thousand miles away?
The animal life of the Commander Islands is diverse. They are like a bridge linking Asia to America. The only place some bird species are found in
Russia, proliferate only here (red-legged kittiwake, rosy finch, and glaucous-winged gull). The Commander Islands provide nesting grounds for nearly
a million sea birds. The most numerous are fulmars, storm-petrels, horned puffins, tufted puffins, cormorants, guillemots, and gulls. They fill the coasts
with noise and create a bird rookery image of the islands. There are over 200 bird species here.
No doubt, fur and eared seal rookeries are the main tourist attraction. The most popular rookery is located in the northwest of Bering Island,
whereas the most beautiful is found in the southeast of Medny. Sea otters and harbor seals are residents of
the local waters. They too claim to be the living symbol of the Commander Islands.

The story of the Commander Islands would be incomplete without Cetacea. Twenty species of these incredible sea mammals have been registered in coastal waters. It’s unlikely to see them
all during one visit, but some of them are spotted regularly. Bagwhale, hump-backed whale, sperm whale, Killer Whale, and Dall’s Porpoise are frequent visitors to the local waters. Lucky one can see Baird’s Beaked and fin whales.
Dall’s Porpoise is another frequent visitor to Commander Islands. It’s not large but very active and fussy. Almost everyone, who has even traveled in Kamchatka coastal waters, saw these lively mammals, buzzing about the stem.
The story of the living treasures of the Commander Islands can be long. There is nothing like them anywhere else in Russia. No other group of islands is remarkable for its landscape or biodiversity, concentrated on such a small territory.
The islands may be interesting for backpackers, sea travelers, and for divers. Backpackers can go from Nikolskoye to a seal rookery and Sarannoye
Lake. A trail along the western coast to Steller’s Arch is very absorbing. The eastern coast of Bering Island can lead to Commander Bay – the last
refuge of the islands’ discoverers – and to Peregrebnaya Bay with splendid abrupt cliffs and waterfalls. Everywhere travelers will be accompanied by curious audacious Arctic foxes. Anemones, sea urchins, shellfish, slow greenlings and
sea bass, along with fields make diving attractive here. Swimming with seals near their rookeries is very exciting, while swimming with Killer Whales
is very thrilling and not for everyone. In Norway, for example, a diver can be offered a special diving-tour with Killer Whales. The Commander
Islands can eclipse New Zealand Kaikoura in the possibilities of watching Sperm Whales or Alaska in watching Humpbacked Whales.
To sum up, the Commander Islands combine various attractions that can be beyond one’s imagination.
Text: Yevgeniy Mamaev