Whale Watching

Humpback Whales move from northern sea to warmer sea for propagation from January to April. You can watch them when they appear near Tokashiki Island.

The waters around the Kerama Islands off Okinawa Island are famous for whale watching. Each year from January to April, humpback whales come to the area to breed and raise their calves. Their numbers have increased each year and now they are an eagerly awaited part of the winter scene in Okinawa.

Humpback whales come to the warm waters of Okinawa to breed. So much of the behavior of the whales seen around the Keramas is due to their breeding activity. For example, groups of males called mating pods vie with each other in what can sometimes be fierce fights. Whales are often seen with wounds received in these battles.

The whales breed in Kerama waters and then give birth the next winter. Mother whales are often seen with their calves in tow, a sight that is sure to delight. When the young grow big and strong enough, mothers and calves set out for the northern seas.

Humpbacks are said to be especially friendly towards people, more so than other whales. When they see a boatload of whale watchers, they draw near and put on a sort of performance, slapping their dorsal fins on the water, blowing and doing "spy hops," shooting straight up out of the water and showing their faces. Some whales, in what seems to be a high-spirited sense of service, will show off by breaching, heaving their bodies two-thirds out of the water with their dorsal fins and twirl in the air before crashing back into the sea, tossing the boats about and drenching the watchers with spray. Truly, this moment gives one an unforgettable experience with these massive creatures of the deep.

Whale watching boats go out every day from late January to March. You can expect to see whales 80% of the time. In order to enjoy a safe tour and also protect these intelligent animals, whale watching associations are required to keep their boats 50-100 meters away from them.

     Whale watching notes:
    *Shape and color pattern on whale's dorsal fin and tail are individual in each animal and are as unique as fingerprints on humans.

     *Body is black on upper side and mottled black and white on the underside. This pattern is distinctive to each whale. Flippers range from all white to all black.

     *Adult mails measure 40-48 feet, and females measure 45-50 feet. Weight varies from 25 to 40 tons.

     *Eats up to 1 and ½ tons of krill and various small fish each day.

     *Females gives birth to a calf every 2-3 years. Gestation period is 11-12 months. Calf is between 10-15 feet long and weighs about 2 tons.

     *Humpbacks are active acrobatic whales. Some activities seen in the Keramas are: fluke-down dive or fluke-up dive, pec slap (whale slaps it's one flipper against surface of water), spy hop (lifts body vertically until eyes are level with surface), peduncle slap(lifts rear end of body above surface and lands sideways in the water or on top of another whale), tail slap, head slap, breach (lifts about 1/3 of body upward towards he sky, thrusts flippers and rotates body vertically in air), blow.

     *Scientists discovered that humpbacks sing long, complex songs. Each song lasts from 10-20 minutes and is repeated continuously for hours at a time. Appears that all of the singing whales are male and that the songs may be a part of mating behavior.

     *May stay submerged for up as long as 30 minutes, but most dives do not last longer than 15 minutes.

     *Killer whales and humans are the major predators of humpback whales. Sharks also take some of the population.

     *Between 1905 and 1965, 28,000 humpback whales were killed. It is believed that they number about 15,000 to 20,000 at present, about 15-20% of their original population.

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