AMAMI, Kagoshima -- A record 1,087 humpback whales in 670 pods were observed migrating to waters off Amami-Oshima island in the southwest Japan prefecture of Kagoshima between December 2020 and March 2021 in research by the Amami Whale and Dolphin Association.
Because there have been cases of mother and calf groups staying for long periods, the association's chair Katsuki Oki believes the waters off Amami are suitable for parenting.
Full-scale shipboard research on whales began in 2014 as part of the Environment Ministry's cetacean research program. Confirmed whale numbers have been increasing for six consecutive years, and in exceeding the previous record of 971 whales in 578 pods last season, this season's count surpassed 1,000 for the first time.
Humpback whales migrate to waters around Amami-Oshima island in winter to breed and raise young. Because many groups migrate south in January and February and travel back north in March, peak traffic this season was late February. Among the total 670 pods were 105 comprising mothers and calves -- also a record high -- and one pod was observed staying in the area as long as 48 days.
The association said that, in all, 2,895 people participated in whale watching tours -- a popular activity among winter tourists -- this season. As many as 1,783 did the "whale swim," in which participants swam with whales while accompanied by a guide. However, the coronavirus pandemic meant that whale watcher numbers were down about 20% on the previous season's 3,684.
Adult humpback whales are between 10 and 20 meters long and weigh as much as 30 metric tons each. They spend their summers in cold waters off the Kamchatka Peninsula in northeastern Russia, and reportedly migrate south to waters around Amami and Okinawa Prefecture in the winter breeding season.
(Japanese original by Kazuaki Kanda, Amami Local Bureau)