Stories by Zamami Village Whale Watching Association

Z-kun the Whale
Z-kun the Whale Turns 11 this Year!

Ten years ago a whale measuring 7-8 meters long was observed off Zamami Island. A humpback, this individual whale is identified by the unusual pattern it has on the underside of its tail flukes. The pattern is in the shape of the letter Z. The name Z (Zed) was immediately adopted as the whale's name (the suffix "kun" is a male diminutive). Every year except 1997 he has made appearances off Zamami Island to the delight of whale watchers coming to the islands. Z-kun has gotten to be one of the larger whales seen off Zamami. Most recently Z-kun has been seen to act quite a bit more gregariously, circling pairs of slowly swimming whales and joining in with the mating pod rituals of noisy breaches and flying leaps in the air. It is quite a performance. Sometimes he is seen coming in close to boats with the cobs of his head and back peeling off, sometimes with blood staining the water around him from the fierce battles for mates among the humpbacks.

Mating Pods

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.

Every year, around February, the number of mating pods increases and battles for mates occur repeatedly in many locations. Whale-watchers can observe breaching and lobtailing as well as comparatively rarer behavior such as sticking their heads out of the water with their mouths open wide, inflating the lower portion of their jaws and rushing through the water, swimming sideways and ramming each other. If this is what is happening on the surface of the water, you can imagine the activity below. When the males group in such way, some of the battles last over two days until a victor finally emerges.

Tacchan the whale A Meeting with Tacchan

About five or six years ago one whale showed great curiosity for the whale-watching boats and was named Tacchan. This year, on the morning of January 11, 2000, everyone was out on the whale-watching platform looking for the appearance of whales. Finally after two hours they were spotted and the captain of the boat yelled out "Here we go!" and set sail. About twenty minutes later we saw two blows! When I saw the tail I knew it was Tacchan. What excitement! But when I looked closer, it was really another whale entirely! Then, as if in a dream, I saw Tacchan slapping the water a number of times right directly in front of the boat. Tacchan wasn't diving very deep and we could see her swimming, jutting her face out of the water, and rolling on her chest, waving her flipper as if she wanted to take our hands. "Tacchan! Show us your face." Everyone was delighted. Another whale surfaced occasionally, exhaling a huge rainbow colored blow. One of the two breached magnificently. One of the women with us saw a whale breach for the first time and shed tears of excitement. I hope we can see them play like that again.

Zamami whale The Breeding Waters Off Zamami

For the Humpback, the breeding areas are far away from their normal fishing grounds. To breed they must travel a great distance, thousands of kilometers, and they make this migration annually. The ocean off Zamami has become their breeding sea, so whale-watchers can view pairs of whales and mother whales with young calves here. At times a mother and a youngster will have another male as escort. In the past few years over five different families have been identified. And perhaps as may as ten whales have been born in these waters. While there have been numerous sightings of calves milking, it is unfortunate that no one has been able to see the births of these beautiful mammals. When the seas get rough, many sightings have been confirmed around Akajima, as the mothers and their calves move to comparatively calmer water.

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.
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
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