Ten kilometres off the north coast of Tub-Karagan Peninsula is the Tyuleniy Archipelago. Tyulen means ‘seals’ in Russian. The archipelago consists of five named islands. The westernmost Kulaly and Morskoy Islands are the largest and measure 20–30 km in length. The other three are the arid and inhospitable Novy, Rybachy and Podgorny. The nearest place to arrange a boat is the port of Bautino, 30 km south of the archipelago and adjacent to Fort Shevchenko. 

Kulaly has the remains of a Neolithic settlement, a meteorological station, and the country’s only maritime border post. It’s also the only inhabited island in the archipelago. The main job of the guards are to catch Dagestani poachers who nip across the Caspian to fish in Kazakh waters.

View from space of the Tyub-Karagan and Buzachi Peninsulas.
The Tyuleniy Archipelago pictured in the bottom right and looking to the south. The grey-coloured headland in the bottom middle is the Aktau-Buzachinskiy State Nature Reserve. Image courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center: http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov

Tyuleniy Archipelago’s History

Early 18th-century explorer Fedor Ivanovich Soimonov was the first to map the islands. The most notable event in the archipelago’s history took place in 1667 when 200 anti-tsarist rebels, siding with Cossack leader Stenka Razin, fled from Atyrau to the islands in fear of retribution. When news reached Russia’s noblemen they sent 40 boats with 3,000 archers – armed with canons – to sail across the north Caspian and attack the Cossacks on Kulaly. With a fort-town constructed out of sandbags, the rebels didn’t stand a chance against Russia’s firepower and the few that survived were swiftly executed.

Caspian Seal Sanctuary

Until the early 20th century the islands were a major breeding ground for South Caspian seals. Kulaly’s northern part had barns and buildings used for seal fat storage, light processing of seal skins and for housing seasonal seal hunters. In winter, it was dangerous work as groups of hunters would occasionally get caught out on the open sea as ice floes separated and drifted away from the land. During warmer months storms can bring waves a few metres high too. These days, seals are rarely seen on the islands and researchers believe artificial islands should be made to encourage them to return.

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  • Tyuleniy Archipelago (RUS—Острова Тюленьи): 44.895445385493716, 50.44002851731317
  • Kulaly Island (RUS—Остров Кулалы): 44.93431205565987, 50.03053081024875
  • Morskoy Island (RUS—Остров Оморской): 45.012393006390084, 50.29983195855135
  • Rybachy Island (RUS—Остров Рыбачий): 44.803511944742155, 50.36534181739702
  • Novy Island (RUS—Остров Новый): 44.91991526250112, 50.71857079071262
  • Podgorny Island (RUS—Остров Подгорный): 44.80898008097487, 50.58924510434102
  • Bautino (RUS—Баутино, KAZ—Баутин): 44.54505185594622, 50.25402708020387