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A whale of a time off the Keramas

By: David Knickerbocker

Date Posted: 2002-01-24

In recent years, whale watching has enjoyed immense popularity with both tourists and locals alike. In the past, fishermen who hunted the giant mammals brought whales the brink of extinction. Because of their yearly migrations to the same coastal waters, commercial whalers around the world have long hunted humpback whales. According to experts, most of the animalís population was wiped out in the early 19th century; in fact, their numbers dropped below 1,000 individuals. Due to this drastic depletion, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) enacted an international ban on commercial whaling in 1964. Though a good attempt to save these animals, many whalers resumed hunting these giant, majestic creatures. Again, in 1986, the IWC enacted a 10-year ban on commercial whaling in order to determine the status of whale populations around the world and to give these populations a chance to recover. Since the ban went into effect, however, countries including Iceland, Norway, Japan and others have continued to hunt some species of whales.

Whales have attracted the attention of thousands of people in recent years, but this time for a nonviolent reason. Many countries are finally beginning to realize that these mammals have a greater economic value alive than dead. Whale watching has become extremely popular in Japan, and Okinawa is a great spot to get a chance to see these giant beasts at their best.

Every year, the giant humpback whales come to the Kerama islands to mate. Being in such close proximity to Okinawa, this is a great chance for you to get out on the deep blue sea to experience a day of whale watching. Here are a few companies offering whale-watching tours.

Sea Fox
Sea Fox has two separate whale-watching tours for you to choose from. You can either go on an all-day excursion on a small cruise boat or a half-day trip on a large ferry. The full-day trip costs •10,000 for adults and children ages 12 and older and •8,000 for children ages 4 to 11. The half-day trip costs •6,000 for children and adults. The whale-watching season begins on Feb. 1 and ends March 31. The full-day excursion begins with a briefing at 8:10 a.m. and leaves Onna Port at 9:40 a.m. for a trip to Tokashiki Island with two hours of whale watching on the way. From 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., you will have free time to explore the sandy beaches of Tokashiki and get a bite to eat before the boat returns to Onna at 4:40 p.m. There are two separate trips you can choose from on the half-day excursion. The first starts with a briefing at 8:20 a.m. and leaves at 9:30 a.m. for two hours of whale watching, returning at 12:30 p.m. The second tripís briefing begins at 12:45 p.m., departs at 2:00 p.m. and returns at 5:00 p.m. For more information on taking a Sea Fox whale-watching tour, call 098-866-8582.

OTS
OTS also offers two separate whale-watching packages. For •10,800 for adults and •8,800 for children, you can get up-close and personal with the whales onboard an express speedboat. With both tours, you will meet at Tomari Port in Naha at 9:15 a.m. for a briefing before heading out for a two-hour tour with lunch and free time on Tokashiki. The main difference is that the express speedboat takes only 35 minutes to get to Tokashiki, while the other takes 70 minutes. The second option costs •8,800 for adults and •6,800 for children and includes a whale-watching tour onboard a large ferry. With February and March being the season for rough, choppy seas, the ferry is probably the best option for those with weak stomachs, but you cannot get as close to the whales as you can on a smaller boat. For more information, call OTS at 933-1152.

Zamami Village Whale Watching Association
The Zamami Village Whale Watching Association offers two separate whale-watching tours; however, to get to Zamami Island, you will have to take a ferry or speedboat from Tomari Port in Naha. On one tour, you can ride a smaller boat to get a closer, more intimate look at the whales off Zamami. This boat leaves twice daily, and the tour lasts two hours. Take the speedboat from Tomari Port to Zamami Island. This boat departs at 9:00 a.m. and arrives at 9:55 a.m. Once you arrive, you will attend a small whale watching reception. There are two separate tours you can take. The first leaves at 10:30 a.m. and returns at 12:30 p.m., while the second departs at 1:30 p.m. and returns at 3:30 p.m. A speedboat leaves Zamami for Tomari Port at 4:25 p.m. and arrives at 5:20 p.m. These tours cost •5,000 for adults and •2,500 for children. Another option is to take a ferry to Zamami Island and get a glimpse of the giant humpbacks from onboard a ferry. You will depart Tomari Port for Zamami at 10:00 a.m. and arrive at noon. After you dock, you will attend a whale-watching reception. The tour will depart at 12:45 p.m. and return at 2:30 p.m. After returning, the ferry will depart for Tomari at 3:00 p.m. and arrive at 5:00 p.m. The cost for this tour is •4,000 for adults and •2,000 for children. Please note that these tours do not include the cost of a ferry or speedboat from Tomari Port to Zamami Island. It is also recommended that you stay overnight on Zamami to fully enjoy your time on this small, beautiful Okinawan island. For more information, call 098-868-4567.

Tea Da
Tea Da also offers two separate whale-watching tours. For •6,800 for adults and •6,000 for children ages 12 and under, you can get your chance to see the whales in their natural environment and hear their love songs. The tours start February 1 and end March 31. The early tour meets at the Tomarin port at 7:50 a.m. and departs at 8:20. They arrive in the Kerama islands at 9:20 a.m. for the whale-watching portion of their tour and return at 11:20 a.m. The afternoon tour meets at the port at 12:30 p.m. and leaves at 1 p.m. The whale-watching portion begins at around 2 p.m., and the boat returns to the port at 4 p.m. For more information or to make reservations, call 098-860-6868 or 090-860-6869.

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