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Whale watching beckons to Keramas

Date Posted: 2011-02-04

Humpback whales are now swimming in waters adjacent to the Kerama Islands, migrating to Okinawa to breed, and then raise their newborn calves.

The annual ritual began a few weeks ago, but it's only now that the lumbering sea mammals are showing up in large numbers, and in locations easily accessible by tourists wanting to watch them. The whales are active and quite animated now, showing off for people watching by splashing and doing flips. The humpback whales are unique, with dorsal fins along their backs and ventral plaits running from the tip of the lower jaw back to the belly.

Scientists who study the whales, which spend much of their year in the Aleutian Islands area off Alaska's coast, say the fins and plaits are as unique to whales as fingerprints are to humans. No two whales are alike. The humpbacks, which grow to 51 feet (16 meters) are part of a family of species which include blue whales, fin, minke, sei and Bryde's whales. Most are black, with a mottled black and white underbelly.

The Kerama Islands, located less than 20 miles (30km) from mainland Okinawa, are the favored breeding area for the humpbacks, which begin showing up in January and stay in the area until late Spring. The males provide much entertainment for spectators as they form groups, called mating pods, to wage often fierce fights with each other as they vie for the females' attention. Breeding follows in February and March, with births coming the following winter.

Humpbacks are more people-friendly than other whale species, showing off by slapping dorsal fins on the water, blowing and doing ‘spy hops' where they shoot straight out of the water and show their faces.
Watching a mother and her young calves is a fantastic photo opportunity in the Keramas. As Spring turns to Summer, the whales begin their migration north toward the Aleutians.

Whale watching is easy, and it's fun. The best part is that whale watching can be accomplished in a couple different ways, depending on your sense of adventure. Whale watching tours are now going numerous times daily from both the Kerama Islands, and from Naha, Ginowan City and Onna Village on Okinawa. There are also options for watching the whales from land, instead of being on a rocking boat.

The Zamami Whale Watching Society is responsible for many tours running through March, the peak of the whale watching season. The Society bills the whole whale season as the Zamami Village Whale Watching Festival, with two tours daily departing Zamami Port to cruise the waters in search of the humpbacks. The two-hour morning tours this year depart at 10:30am and 12:30pm. Tour cost is エ5,000 for adults and エ2,500 for children.

Dive shops and travel agencies in Zamamai and Tokashiki, as well as Naha City, offer tour programs throughout February and March. Many tours begin from Naha Port. Marine Corps Community Services is running Whale Watching Tours throughout February and March. Tickets are $64 for adults and $49 for kids 4-11. The Saturday and Sunday trips begin at 8 a.m. and finish at 3 p.m. Tour participants are encouraged to bring Japanese yen for lunch and purchases. Information is available at Tours Plus.

On the Air Force side, Kadena Information, Tickets and Travel is running Whale Watching Tours every weekend in February. The cost is $55 for adults and $45 for children 4-12. Travelers are encouraged to bring sunscreen, a raincoat, camera and snacks. Nobody younger than four years of age is permitted aboard the boats.

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