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Japan

Shikoku is the smallest of the four main islands in the Japanese group and lies nestled in the Seto Inland Sea off the southeast coast of the main, and largest, island of Honshu. The mountainous island is one of the most rural areas of Japan and just happens to be an international trekker's destination. A sequence of 88 temples circle the coast of the island. Walking this circuit is a famous pilgrimage and is unusual in that it's a pilgrimage that doesn't have a final goal. You walk a circle, beginning anywhere.

Seems like the perfect mindset for an encounter with whales. Several well-organized whale watching trips head out from fishing villages, conducted by the same people who used to hunt whales.

Common species: Humpback whale (February - April), spinner dolphin and bottlenose dolphin (through the year), sperm whale (mainly summer - autumn).

Other species confirmed: Spotted dolphin, short-finned pilot whale, etc.

The Ogasawara Islands (Bonin Islands) is an archipelago of about 30 small rocky islands. Only 2 of the islands are inhabited: Chichi-jima, about 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo, and Haha-jima, 50 kilometers farther south.

Humpback whale watch: Ogasawara kept above 90% success rates for watching humpback whales by boats last several years.

Sperm whale watch: Sperm whale watching is operated from spring to late autumn.

Whale lookouts: There are good whale lookouts to see humpback whales from February to April by land. It is easy and comfortable for watchers, no need to worry about getting wet or seasick.

Ogasawara Whale Watching Association (OWA) was established in March 1989 to help manage and regulate whale watching, and to operate as an information center. OWA members have an interest in whale watching, are boat operators , owners of tourism businesses, or simply fans of whales.

Research: The research projects have been conducted by OWA, funded by the local government and others. The distribution, migration, reproduction, stock identification, and population estimate studies have been carried out for the humpback whales and sperm whales. The movement and school structure studies have been practiced for the bottlenose dolphin. The studies of cetacean fauna of Ogasawara have been also conducted.

Rules: OWA has established its own voluntary rule in 1989 (revised in 1992 and 1997). It requires small boats which weigh less than 20 gross ton to obey the following activities in all areas within 20 miles off the islands for the large whales (baleen whales and sperm whales) :

  • A whale watching boat must slow down within 300m of whales.
  • Do not violate the normal behavior of whales.
  • A whale watching boat must not approach within 100m of humpback whales and 50m of sperm whales.
Larger boats are required more severe rules. And an aircraft is restricted not to approach within 300m of whales.

Educational programs and museums: During the humpback whale watching season, the gathering for land based whale watching and free lecture is held by OWA each evening on the day the ferryboat arrives. The slidefilm show and lecture is also held by OWA at night on the spring and summer vacation season. They give basic knowledge about whales and Ogasawara Islands to deepen whale watching experinces.


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