Saghalien, Or Saghalin, an island of Russia, formerly jointly claimed and occupied by Russia and Japan, off the E. coast of Asia, between lat. 45° 56' and 54° 25' N., and intersected by the meridians 142° and 143° E.; length about 600 m., breadth from about 20 to 80 m.; area, 24,560 sq. m.; pop. about 16,-000, including Russians, Japanese, Chinese, Ai-nos and other natives, and some persons of European and American extraction. The entire coast does not present a single safe harbor, and the largest bays are so shallow that ships can rarely go nearer than 1 m. to the shore. The strait of Mamio Rinzo, between Cape Muravieff in the Littoral province of Siberia and the island, is not more than 5 m. wide, and is frozen over three or four months ' in the year, affording connection by dog teams over the ice with the continent. The strait of La Pérouse separates Saghalien from the Japanese island of Yezo. Through the entire length of the island, almost on meridian 143°, is a range of mountains more than 2,000 ft. high, and in the S. part are peaks of 4,000 ft. Below lat. 52° there is a parallel range on the E. side. None of the mountains are volcanic. As yet the exploration is but partial, and the exact topography of the island is unknown.
There are rich deposits of coal along the entire shore on the W. side. The two principal rivers, Baronai and Tymi, rise near each other in lat. 50° 40', the first flowing S., the second N., neither more than 106 or 112 m. long, and both navigable for boats. There are four lakes of from 15 to 37 sq. m., all united with the sea by small and deep channels, and numerous lesser lakes in the northwest. The climate is cold, damp, and foggy, with abundant rain in summer; and snow falls for days together in winter and lies on the mountains till the middle of May. The mean temperature is 62° F. in July, and 14° in January. The soil varies in quality, and is little cultivated, the inhabitants subsisting chiefly upon fish and game, while corn is imported from Russia and rice from Japan. There are a few plains and natural meadows. Besides coal and petroleum, the natural riches of the island are the woods, furs, and fisheries. The woods covering the mountains consist of Norway spruce, fir, Siberian silver fir, pines, and deciduous trees from the birch to the elm. The hunting grounds furnish sable, fox, deer, and bear skins. Seals, sea lions, and whales abound in the neighboring seas.
Fish are plentiful in the estuaries and rivers, particularly salmon, and in autumn swans, geese, ducks, and other wild fowl. Large quantities of dried and salted salmon and herring are sent to Japan. Most of the furs go to Russia, some to Japan, and a few to the United States. The chief trading posts are at Aniva bay on the S. end of the island, and the trade is carried on mainly by barter. - About 1780 the Japanese began to settle the shores in the S. part, while the Russians were invading the N. part. In 1804 the two nations unsuccessfully attempted to fix upon a boundary of occupation. In 1852 some Americans tried to found a post to open trade with the continent, and Russia immediately took formal possession of the island, sending men from Siberia to build forts and establish posts, and in 1853 they opened some of the coal mines. In 1854 Russia renewed negotiations as to boundary with Japan, and the island was declared "still unpartitioned," Japan claiming all below lat. 50°, while the Russians had actually colonized considerably S. of that parallel.
A joint occupation was agreed upon, and in 1875 the Japanese portion of the island was formally ceded to Russia. In 1873 Russia made its colony a penal settlement and sent convicts to work the coal mines.