A Grave Among the Oaks


There’s a spit of land cleaving Lake Blagodatnoe from the Sea of Japan in the Sikhote-Alin Reserve; a sandy rise five hundred meters long and half as wide, covered by a thin layer of soil and crowned by a monotypic forest of Mongolian oak. It’s not really a destination in and of itself; scientists or reserve rangers usually shuffle quickly through en route to the lake or further on to Khuntami Bay, pausing only to admire a tiger track or observe a flushing roe deer. But this unassuming patch shelters a remarkable secret; one with ties to the Russian Revolution itself. This forest contains a grave.

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The Minke Whale at Malaya Bay

Minke Whale_LR
Minke whales are an uncommon sight in the Sea of Japan off the coast of Primorye each autumn, and when the carcass of this one washed up on the shore of Malaya Bay near the village of Ternei in spring 2006 its appearance did not pass unnoticed for long.

I heard about the whale rather early–apparently the same day the tides pushed it toward land–and some friends and I hiked over the steep hill separating Ternei from Malaya Bay that evening to see this smallest of the baleened giants for ourselves. We watched the carcass roll in the tranquil surf and marveled at the creature’s size until darkness made further observation impossible.

Word of the whale spread quickly throughout Ternei. The sparse stream of curious villagers willing to trudge along the trail of rock and mud to gawk at the remains eventually grew to a throng of the practical, and within a week the carcass had been cleaved of most of its meat: the hunting dogs of Ternei had plenty to eat that spring.