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Humpback whale-watching tours make a splash off southwest Japan's Amami-Oshima Island

Tour participants observe humpback whales off Amami-Oshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture on Jan. 4, 2022. (Mainichi/Kazuaki Kanda)

AMAMI, Kagoshima -- Humpback whale-watching tours began for the season around southwest Japan's Amami-Oshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture on Jan. 4 after the giant mammals migrated to the area from the north.

    Some 46 members of the Kominato neighborhood association in the city of Amami's Naze district, which has a harbor for tour boats, were invited to join the first day of operations. Two whales could be seen up close swimming slowly around the vessels, and residents screamed in delight when the whales went under the boats and showed their heads above the water. One whale was seen hitting the surface of the water with its tail fin.

    Participant Yuki Maruyama, 12, a sixth-grader at the municipal Kominato Elementary School, said he saw whales for the first time. "They were huge and had a tremendous impact. I was scared when a whale emerged from beneath the boat, but I'm so happy to have seen it up close," he said excitedly.

    According to the Amami Whale and Dolphin Association, which has been observing whales, a record high of 1,097 humpback whales were seen off the island last season between December 2020 and April 2021. While the number of tour participants declined last season due to the coronavirus pandemic, 2,895 people still took part.

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

    The whale watching tours will continue until the end of March.

    (Japanese original by Kazuaki Kanda, Amami Local Bureau)

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