The Ushkany Islands is a very special, not to say unique place at Lake Baikal. The word “ushkan” in Russian means “hare”. There have never been hares on the islands, of course. The matter is that Russian settlers and traders at the coasts of the White Sea once used it to name seals, they called them sea hares or “ushkany”. Since the islands are first of all famous for sealing grounds, the name seems quite appropriate.
Most scientists agree that the archipelago appeared after a big tectonic rise of the lake’s bottom in the middle of the Psychozoic era. Altogether, there are four islands in Ushkany archipelago: so called Big, Narrow, Round and Long. They cover the total area of about 10 sq. km. The islands are located in the middle of Lake Baikal, about 7 km westwards from the Sacred Nose Peninsula and belong to the Academician range of mountains rising to max. 216 meters (Big Ushkanie island) and min – 17 meters above water level.
The islands enjoy a specific mild climate and have very interesting flora and fauna. Thus, here you can see pine, birch and aspen trees that look quite different from their “co-brothers” growing on the rest of the shoreline. Larch trees look really impressive here. Most of them are more than 3 centuries old and have a straight trunk which is not common for these types of trees. During the spring the forest cover is richly dressed by purple blossoming rhododendron. Then, in early summer an unusual sea cabbage is in flower on the islands’ rocky cliffs. The latter are also covered with brown lichen. Another peculiarity of the islands is a great number of anthills, some of them reaching man’s height. Ants’ paradise is occasionally disturbed by fires, for the rest, the place seems very comfortable for them: their density here is the highest in the whole country.
The Ushkany Islands have the status of a natural wildlife sanctuary. In spite of the islands’ strict protection rules and entrance fees about 150 people come here annually to see nerpa. The western side of the Narrow Island is their all-time favorite resting place. The average number of seals there reaches 2 thousand heads. Nerpa is usually cautious and has very keen hearing, so tourists must be as quite as mice, otherwise it hurries to dive into water and disappears. This cute animal won’t leave anybody indifferent. That’s no wonder nerpa is the symbol of Lake Baikal!