Humpback whale-watching tours cause a stir off Amami-Oshima Island in southwestern Japan

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AMAMI, Kagoshima – Humpback whale watching tours began for the season around Amami-Oshima Island in southwestern Japan’s Kagoshima Prefecture on Jan. 4 after the migration giant mammals to the region from the north.

Some 46 members of the Kominato Neighborhood Association in Naze District of Amami City, which has a port for tour boats, were invited to join the first day of operations. Two whales could be seen up close swimming slowly around the ships, and residents squealed with delight as the whales passed under the boats and showed their heads above the water. A whale was seen hitting the surface of the water with its tail fin.

Participant Yuki Maruyama, 12, a sixth-grade student at Kominato Municipal Elementary School, said he saw whales for the first time. “They were huge and had a huge impact. I was scared when a whale emerged from under the boat, but I’m so happy to have seen it up close,” he enthused.

According to the whale-watching Amami Whale and Dolphin Association, a record 1,097 humpback whales were sighted off the island last season between December 2020 and April 2021. While the number of tour participants dwindled last season due to the coronavirus pandemic, 2,895 people still took part.

Adult humpback whales can reach around 11 to 14 meters in length and weigh around 30 metric tons. During the breeding season, they travel south to the waters around Amami-Oshima Island and the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa from the Kamchatka Peninsula, and return north after breeding.

Whale watching excursions will continue until the end of March.

(Japanese original by Kazuaki Kanda, Amami Local Bureau)

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