The island of Sakhalin is situated in the Far East of Russia in the North Pacific, between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan.
Sakhalin (or sahaliyan) means "black" in the aborigines' Manchu-language and refers to the Amur River, as it was used in the ancient name of the river (sahaliyan ula). The Japanese name, Karafuto, comes from Ainu-language (Kara Puto), which means "God of mouth of water land". The name was restored to the island by the Japanese during their possession of its southern part (1905-1945). After the year of 1945 the Soviet governement changed the name to Sakhalin.
Sakhalin is separated from the mainland by the narrow Strait of Mamiya. Sakhalin is the largest island of Russia with the length of 948 km, and the width of 25 to 170 km, and with the total area of about 78,000 square kilometers.
Nearly two-thirds of Sakhalin is mountainous. Two parallel ranges of mountains seperate the island from north to south, reaching 600–1500 meters. The highest peak in the Western Sakhalin Mountains is Mount Ichara (1481 m), while the Eastern Sakhalin Mountains's highest peak is Mount Lopatin (1609 m), which is at the same time the island's highest mountain. There is Tym-Poronaiskaya Valley between the two ranges.
The main rivers are the Tym river, with the length of 400 km, which flows north and north-east with numerous rapids and shallows into the Sea of Okhotsk. The Poronai river flows south-east to the Gulf of Patience or Shichiro Bay, on the south-east coast.
Due to the influence of the raw, foggy Sea of Okhotsk, the climate is very cold. The average yearly temperature is only 0.5 °C (January -15.9 °C; July 16.1 °C). The average precipitation comes to 570 mm.
At the beginning of the 20th century, some 32,000 Russians inhabited Sakhalin along with several thousands of native inhabitants. Today the island's population has grown up to 673,100 people.
The administrative center of Sakhalin region is Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, which was founded in 1882. It is located in the southern part of the island and the population of the modern city comes to about 180 thousand people.
Flora and fauna
The island is covered with dense forests, mostly coniferous. The Yezo (or Yeddo) spruce , the Sakhalin fir and the Dahurian larch are the most frequent trees. The Siberian dwarf pine and the Kurile bamboo. Birches, both Siberian silver birch and Erman's birch, poplar, elm, Bird cherry, Japanese yew and willows can be observed on the upper parts of the mountains.
In the south of the island the maple, rowan and oak, as well as the Japanese Panax ricinifolium, the Amur cork tree, the Spindle are found. The underwoods are rich in berry-bearing plants such as cloudberry, cranberry, crowberry, red whortleberry, Red-berried elder, wild raspberry and Spiraea.
Bears, foxes, otters and sables are numerous, as well as the reindeer in the north, and the musk deer, hares, squirrels and mice in different parts of the island. There are different bird species on the island, mostly of east Siberia, but some endemic or near-endemic breeding species can be observed such as Spotted Greenshank and the Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.
The rivers are rich in fish, especially in species of salmon. A lot of whales visit the sea coast, including the critically endangered Western Pacific Gray Whale, for which the coast of Sakhalin is the only known feeding ground.