The name of the islands "Kuril" originates from the language of the aboriginal tribe Ainu, which inhabited this region centuries ago: "kur" means man. The Kuril Islands are known in Japanese as the Chishima Islands. Today the islands have got both Russian and Japanese names.
The largest islands are, Kunashir Island (Kunashiri), Iturup Island (Etorofu), Simushir Island (Shimushiro), Ushishir Island (Ushichi) and Paramushir Island (Poromushiri). The biggest island of the Kuril chain is Iturup Island with the area of 3139 square kilometers. The length of the island is 200 km, and the width is 7–27 km.
First the Kuril islands were inhabited by the the people of Ainu in the middle centuries. Later in the 17th and 18th centuries the islands were inhabited by Russians during the exploration of this area. Today, roughly 30,000 people (ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Tatars, Koreans, Nivkhs, Oroch, and Ainu) inhabit the Kuril Islands.
As the islands form part of the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire", there are at least 160 volcanoes on the islands, 40 of which can be considered as currently active. One of the most spectacular volcanoes is volcano Tyatya, which is located on themost southern island Kunashir. Actually it is two volcanoes, one inside the other, now forming one, two-level Tyatya volcano. Atlasova volcano (2,339 m) on Atlasova Island is the highest point of the chain. As the islands are mainly of volcanic origin, earthquakes happen quite frequently.
The climate on the islands is quite severe, with long, cold, snowy winters and cool, foggy summers. The average annual precipitation is 760–1,000 mm, most of which falls as snow, which may occur in any month from the end of September to the beginning of June.
Flora and fauna
The marine wildlife in the area of the islands is represented by 20 species of whales such as Grey Whale, South Whale, Humpback Whale, Finn Whale, Cachalot, Orca, Pacific White-sided Dolphin, Long-Finned Pilot Whale, Harbor Porpoise, etc.
Because of a smaller size and isolation of the central islands, few major terrestrial mammals have inhabited, though red and arctic foxes were found on the islands at the end of the 19th century.. The bulk of the terrestrial mammals is taken up by rodents. The largest southernmost and northernmost islands are inhabited by brown bear, foxes, martens. Some species of deer are found on the southern islands.
Nearly 200 species of birds can be found on the islands. The following rare birds have been registered on the islands - Short-tailed Albatross, Streaked Shearwater, Mandarin Duck, Golden Eagle, Steller's Sea Eagle and White-tailed Eagle, Gyrfalcon, Peregrine, Japanese Crane, Latham's Snipe, Blakiston's Fish-Owl.
Vegetation varies from tundra on the northern islands to dense forest on the larger southern islands.