The Range and Migration of the Humpbacks

At present in the oceans of our earth there are seventy-six varieties of whales and dolphins comprised of sixty-six kinds of toothed whales and ten varieties of baleen whales. Among those that can have confirmed sightings in the seas off Okinawa are nineteen varieties of toothed whales and seven varieties of baleen whales. One of the most frequently sighted among the baleen whales is the Humpback.

The Humpback Whales in the Pacific

The distribution of populations and migration for the Humpback include their feeding grounds in the Pacific Ocean, specifically the Okhotsk Sea, around the Aleutian Islands, the Bering Strait, the Gulf of Alaska and southwest Alaska.

During the summer they feast on the riches of the north Pacific and in the autumn they start their trek southward via the western Pacific to Okinawa, Taiwan, Ogasawara, and the Mariana Islands. This is where they stay through the winter and spring, after which they start their return northward to feed again.

The migratory routes they take on the eastern side of the Pacific; the California Peninsula, the Gulf of Mexico and the Hawaiian Islands are well known.

Whale migration map
The Range and Migration of the North Pacific Humpback Whale (Uchida 1997)

Frequent Humpback Appearance off Okinawa


Sightings of Humpbacks migrating through the seas off Okinawa include a wide range of areas. Confirmed sightings have been made in the Yaeyama and Miyako Island groups as well as the Satsunan islands. In particular, points they frequent when here have been studied in the Kerama Islands since there are whale-watching tours there. Also whales are frequently sighted between Zamami-jima Island and Tonaki-jima Island.


Whales are often sighted in the period of year when the Humpbacks migrate to the lower latitudes, the winter months between the middle part of December until April. In particular, many sightings occur between January and April.

Frequent Humpback Appearance off Okinawa
Appearance Range of the Humpback in the Nansei Islands Seas (Uchida 1997)

Whales in Kerama Islands

Whales in Kerama Islands
The numbers in the map indicate the number of whale groups identified in each block area in the ocean,
from winter survey, 1991, between January and March.


See also

Last summer one of my friends told me he is planning to go to Kerama Islands for whale watching. As I’ve been in Zamami I was surprised a little bit because the season to see this incredible giants starts on January and lasts till the beginning of April. So, if you go to Kerama in summer, you will hardly have a chance to meet any whale there. Now I will introduce you some important things you should know before going to whale watching to Kerama Islands.
You may meet people who say they are travelling to Kerama Islands in winter. Before getting surprised, make sure you know much about this fascinating part of the earth because the most wonderful season of the year to visit this island. So many activities to do, that you will definitely need a lot of free time to manage everything.
About ten years ago,island fishermen reported seeing whales in the area. Then the humpback whales have returned to the Kerama,where they once were hunted. Foer several years the number of whales migrating to the Kerama gradually increased. Current from February to March every year,many boats (departed from Naha and each islands) is used for whale watching around the Kerama islands.
 Study of Humpback Whales in Japanese Waters WWF Japan supported a survey of humpback whales in Japanese waters from 1988 to 1995. The survey was initiated by a Canadian scientist, Dr.James Darling, with help of Japanese volunteers. He used a method to identify animals by photo identification. Shapes and pattern of flukes of each humpback whale is different like human's finger prints. The purposes were to study status of the species in Northwestern Pacific Ocean and to introduce the method to Japan.
In order to win females to pair up with as mates, male whales engage in repeated fierce battles amongst themselves. At certain times as many as two to eight males will accompany one female. The male humpbacks do this to propagate their species and for them it is serious business, but for whale-watchers it is a chance to have an unforgettable experience viewing this dramatic behavior. The seas off Zamami Island are mating seas for the humpback and in contrast to other sea areas, such as feeding seas where such behavior as bubble net fishing can be seen, the Zamami seas are where visitors can come to watch their mating pod behavior.
Humpbacks usually congregate in small groups of one to four but gather in much larger groups when they are in the seas where they feed. Humpback Whales are popular among whale-watchers because of their dynamic performances. Whale Singing
 by Senzo Uchida Humpback Whale