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  1. Surveys of the humpback whale
Okinawa Churashima Foundation RESEARCH CENTER

Research on marine organisms

Surveys of the humpback whale

Surveys of the humpback whale

Humpback whales travel to areas of Russia and Alaska to feed during summer and in winter they migrate to Okinawa, the Ogasawara Islands and Hawaii to breed and to raise their young.

Every year from the end of December though to the beginning of April, whale watching of humpback whales takes place off the coast of Okinawa. The humpback whales have become an important resource that supports the tourism industry during the winter season.
Our foundation is working together with the local people along with domestic and foreign researchers to study the ecology and resource conditions of these humpback whales.

Latest Information

Apr. 6, 2020

A blowing humpback whale

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : -
Motobu : 5 groups, 8 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)
Naha : -

Today is the last day of humpback whale surveys for this season. With the support of many people, we were able to take photographs of 499 humpback whales in the waters of Motobu and the Kerama Islands for our identification archives. Once again, we would like to thank the staff from the Okinawa South and Central Whale Networks for updating us with information on the spotting of whales and sharing images of whale flukes (tail fins) with us, and to the Okinawa Northern Whale Watching Association for their support in sharing information on whales spotted in the waters of Motobu, and to those who have assisted us from Zamami Island, Naha City, Onna Village, Ie Village and from Motobu Town, and to the captains of the survey boat, to all staff, we really appreciate you all so much! We look forward to working with you all again next season.

Apr. 3, 2020

ID#: R-408

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : -
Motobu : 4 groups, 5 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 3 groups, 4 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)

On today’s survey, we spotted the whale in the image (I.D.# R-408) singing. This humpback whale was first confirmed in the waters of the Kerama Islands in 2002. Since then he has been frequently spotted migrating to the waters of Okinawa. During the last few days conducting surveys in the waters of Motobu, most of the humpback whales that we encounter have been identified as singers or are males previously confirmed as singers. We also recorded I.D.# R-8 (Zed) singing today. Through surveys conducted so far, we know that at the final stage of the season, most of the whales encountered are the single male whales that sing.

Apr. 2, 2020

ID#: R-8

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : -
Motobu : 6 groups, 5 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 2 groups, 2 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)

On today’s survey in the waters of Motobu, we spotted Zed (I.D.# R-8). Zed was also spotted on February 24th in the waters of Motobu (See the 2/24 entry), and in the waters near Naha on March 30th (The information was provided from a whale watching company in Naha) . Today, Zed was with another humpback whale R-668. R-668 was introduced in the March 30th report. Whilst we were observing the two, Zed and R-668 split up, then later that day R-668 was spotted offshore singing songs.

Mar. 30, 2020

ID#: R-668

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 3 groups, 5 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)
Motobu : 5 groups, 8 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 5 groups, 6 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)

On today’s survey in the waters of Motobu, we spotted the whale in the image (I.D.# R-668). This humpback whale was first identified in 2007, near Okinawa. Since then it has been spotted returning to Okinawa several times. R-668 was spotted last year on March 30th swimming with another two humpback whales in the waters of Motobu, and today we observed him singing songs off the southwest coast of Ie Island.

Mar. 28, 2020

Humpbacks swimming along the coast of Ie island

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : -
Motobu : 4 groups, 7 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)
Naha : 6 groups, 9 whales (3 pairs of mother and calf)

There are only a few more days left in March, and the whale watching season in Okinawa slowly enters its final stage. We can see the gradual decline in the number of whales spotted in our reports. When the number of whales is smaller it makes searching for whales harder. In Okinawa we continue our observation and search for whales with help from whale watching companies and survey teams who keep us updated with information such as the locations of the whales found and their numbers. For this we are always grateful to everyone.

Mar. 25, 2020

Rough-toothed dolphins

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : -
Motobu : 4 groups, 6 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)
Naha : 6 groups, 13 whales (4 pairs of mother and calf)

During today’s survey in the waters of Motobu, we spotted rough-toothed dolphins (see the image). Rough-toothed dolphins are toothed whales that widely inhabit tropical and sub-tropical open seas. They reach around 3 meters in length. During surveys we have even seen them swimming along with the humpback whales. Today, a pod with over 30 members was swimming off the west coast of Minna Island.

Mar. 23, 2020

A head-slapping humpback whale

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 5 groups, 13 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)
Motobu : 3 groups, 4 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 5 groups, 8 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)

In our survey today, we observed the humpback whale in the image doing a head slap (slapping its head on the surface of the water). Humpback whales have many different behaviors including the head slap, breaching (jumping) and pec slapping (slapping the water surface with their pectoral fins). If you have not been whale watching yet, now is your chance to see these exciting whale behaviors with your own eyes.

Mar. 21, 2020

ID#: R-950

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : -
Motobu : 2 groups, 5 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)
Naha : 3 groups, 10 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)

On today’s survey, we spotted the whale in the image (I.D.# R-950). This whale was first identified in the waters of Okinawa in 2009, and it was also confirmed several times afterwards in the waters of the Kerama Islands. However, this year was the first time to confirm her with a calf. R-950 was seen with her calf during our surveys in the waters of Motobu on March 8th.

Mar. 20, 2020

A humpback whale headig north

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 2 groups, 2 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)
Motobu : 6 groups, 8 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 5 groups, 10 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)

During today’s survey, we spotted many solitary whales swimming quickly. From the results of our research so far, we know that in the waters around the main island of Okinawa, pods of 2 or more whales are most common in February and become less common to the end of March. After the first week of March, most of the whales spotted are known to be solitary males.

Mar. 18, 2020

ID#: R-891

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 5 groups, 7 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)
Motobu : 3 groups, 5 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 3 groups, 3 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)

Today on our surveys in the waters of Motobu, we spotted the whale in the image (I.D.# R891). R-891 was seen for the first time in Okinawan waters in 2009, and this year she was seen with a calf for the first time. Today R-891 was swimming with her calf in shallow waters, and occasionally breaching (jumping).

Mar. 17, 2020

ID#: R-803

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 7 groups, 13 whales (3 pairs of mother and calf)
Motobu : 3 groups, 6 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 4 groups, 6 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)

Today on our surveys in the waters of Motobu, we spotted the whale in the image (I.D.# R-803). R-803 has been seen in the past with a calf and was therefore identified as a female. Today, R-803 was swimming slowly with another humpback whale which has been previously identified as a male whale. Now that we are in mid-March, Okinawa is drawing near to the end of the whale watching season, but there are still sightings of male and female humpback whales in Okinawan waters.

Mar. 12, 2020

A herd of false killer whales

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 7 groups, 13 whales (4 pairs of mother and calf)
Motobu : 5 groups, 6 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 5 groups, 10 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)

Today, we have encountered a pod of 7 to 30 false killer whales off the southwest coast of Ie Island and offshore of Motobu Peninsula. False killer whales are small toothed whales that reach around 5 meters in length. They usually form pods with up to several dozen members. Our staff received several reports from whale watching operators about sightings of false killer whales during our surveys. We were able to observe this pod of false killer whales swimming northeastward. Encountering other species of cetaceans is one of the delights of our humpback whale surveys.

Mar. 8, 2020

ID#: R-261

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 7 groups, 12 whales (4 pairs of mother and calf)
Motobu : 11 groups, 17 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)
Naha : 8 groups, 14 whales (4 pairs of mother and calf)

Today we identified the whale in the image (I.D.# R-261) in the waters of Motobu. This humpback whale has frequently been confirmed in Okinawan waters since being first identified in 1990 near the Kerama Islands. R-261 was also spotted on surveys conducted on March 6th as a singer off the northwest coast off Ie Island. He has been identified as a male whale as he has been confirmed to be singing on several occasions. Today he was spotted swimming and escorting a mother and calf near Minna Island.

Mar. 6, 2020

humpback whales on the water surface

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 7 groups, 13 whales (6 pairs of mother and calf)
Motobu : 6 groups, 8 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)
Naha : 2 groups, 5 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)

As we enter March, the humpback whale’s presence in the waters of Okinawa is at its seasonal peak. However, in today’s survey of Motobu’s waters, there were fewer whales spotted than a few days ago. The survey results so far show that in Okinawa the number of female humpback whales gradually declines from early March until late March. Around this time the females that have already mated will slowly leave Okinawa, and make their way northward towards their feeding grounds in Russian waters.

Mar. 4, 2020

A whale louse dropped from a humpbacks

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : -
Motobu : 9 groups, 15 whales (3 pairs of mother and calf)
Naha : 4 groups, 7 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)

Today we have observed humpback whales breaching (jumping) in several areas in the waters of Motobu. Sometimes, after boisterous breaching, pieces of skin from the body of humpback whales are found floating on the water surface. Today, we found whale lice with pieces of the whale skin (See the image). This species of whale louse is called Cyamus boopis. It clings to cetaceans such as humpback whales, but most of its ecology is still poorly known.

Feb. 29, 2020

A humpback whale confirmed as an escort

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : -
Motobu : 8 groups, 16 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)
Naha : 8 groups, 14 whales (5 pairs of mother and calf)

On today’s survey in the waters of Motobu, we saw a group of whales made up of a mother and calf being escorted by a male whale. (The whale in the image is the escort, I.D.# R-1449). You might presume the escort is a father looking after the mother and calf, however that is not the case, it is probably a male whale looking for opportunities to mate with the mother whale.

Feb. 25, 2020

Breaching of a humpback whale

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 6 groups, 10 whales (4 pairs of mother and calf)
Motobu : 10 groups, 19 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 9 groups, 15 whales (3 pairs of mother and calf)

During today’s survey, we witnessed multiple humpback whales breaching in many different areas in the waters off of Motobu. There are several theories as to why humpback whales breach including the removal of parasites and communication, however a definitive reason is not yet clear. Spotting a breaching whale is the highlight of a humpback whale watching tour in Okinawa.

Feb. 24, 2020

ID#: R-8

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : -
Motobu : 8 groups, 16 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 10 groups, 17 whales (3 pairs of mother and calf)

On today’s survey in the waters of Motobu, the whale in the image was spotted (I.D.# R-8). This humpback whale has a Z pattern on its right fluke and is widely known as Zed. Zed was first identified in 1991 in the waters of the Kerama Islands and since then has visited Okinawa every year. He was spotted many times last year around Ie Island. Zed is one of the most famous humpback whales in Okinawa and Amami due to its distinctive Z pattern that allows it to be easily identified, and the frequency with which it has been spotted.

Feb. 22, 2020

ID#: R-146

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : -
Motobu : 8 groups, 18 whales (3 pairs of mother and calf)
Naha : 5 groups, 11 whales (4 pairs of mother and calf)

On today’s survey conducted in the waters of Motobu, we spotted the whale in the image (I.D.# R-146). This whale was first seen in 1995 in the waters of the Kerama Islands and has been spotted a few times in Okinawan waters since then. She has also been confirmed in the waters of the Amami Islands and is known as Fu-mama amongst whale watching groups. R-146 was with her calf today and was swimming right beside Ocean Expo Park. Many visitors and staff at the Tropical Dream Center and the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium were able to see the mother and calf and enjoyed whale watching from the land.

Feb. 20, 2020

Common bottlenose dolphins

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 9 groups, 17 whales (6 pairs of mother and calf)
Motobu : 9 groups, 16 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)
Naha : 7 groups, 12 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)

Our survey today was conducted in the waters of Motobu, southwest of Ie Island. We spotted 20 common bottlenose dolphins swimming with a humpback whale (see the image). During our surveys we occasionally find other cetaceans such as rough-toothed dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, false killer whales, common bottlenose dolphins and short-finned pilot whales, all of which are toothed whales. The common bottlenose dolphins we encountered today swam and jumped on the waves created by the bow of the survey boat, then they eventually swam further out to sea away from the survey boat.

Feb. 19, 2020

ID#: R-1

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : -
Motobu : 10 groups, 14 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 2 groups, 5 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)

Today the survey resumed for the first time in a week due to unsettled weather in Okinawa and rough water. During today’s survey in the waters of Motobu, the humpback whale in the photo was spotted (I.D.# R-1). As its identification number describes, this whale was the first whale identified when the Okinawa Churashima Foundation’s whale survey first conducted its surveys in the waters of the Kerama Islands in 1991. R-1 has returned and been confirmed in Okinawan waters 9 times since 1991. As R-1 has been observed with a calf we know she is a female. In the Kerama Islands, she is known as “Big mama”.

Feb. 12, 2020

Humpbacks slapping their pectoral fins

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 5 groups, 9 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)
Motobu : 7 groups, 11 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)
Naha : 6 groups, 9 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)

Coming into mid-February, humpback whale watching season in Okinawan waters is reaching its peak. Today there was a strong south wind, so the water was rough, however, there were two groups of mother and calf, spotted near Ie Island and offshore. Also, there were two humpback whales spotted near Ie Island, repeatedly pec slapping (slapping the water surface with their pectoral fins) and breaching at the surface.

Feb. 11, 2020

Mother(ID#: R-42) and calf

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 8 groups, 17 whales (5 pairs of mother and calf)
Motobu : 7 groups, 14 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)
Naha : 7 groups, 13 whales (4 pairs of mother and calf)

On today’s survey conducted in Motobu, we spotted and confirmed the identity of a mother whale and her calf in the image (I.D.# R-42). This humpback whale was first identified in 1991 around the Kerama Islands. Including this year, she has returned to the waters of Okinawa 15 times, and over these 30 years, she has been spotted with a calf many times. Our surveys have shown that many of the humpback whales that migrate to Okinawa give birth to a calf every two or three years. We have seen no cases in Okinawa of a humpback whale giving birth in consecutive years.

Feb. 3, 2020

Mother and breaching calf

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 9 groups, 15 whales (3 pairs of mother and calf)
Motobu : 11 groups, 22 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)
Naha : 5 groups, 9 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)

Since the start of February, mother and calf humpback whales have been seen around the Kerama Islands, Motobu and Naha areas. On today’s survey in the waters of Motobu, two groups of mother and calf were observed, and as you can see in the image, the calf was repeatedly breaching. Results from our surveys have shown that mothers with a newborn calf are more often spotted in shallow waters, near the coast, and between islands than male whales or females without a calf. It is thought that a mother whale is better able to raise her calf in calmer waters than in rougher waters offshore.

Feb. 2, 2020

Checking a song of a humpback whale

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 9 groups, 18 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)
Motobu : 3 groups, 6 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 7 groups, 10 whales (3 pairs of mother and calf)

In our surveys in the waters of Motobu, we observed one “singer” humpback whale from a little further than usual, in order to study in detail the ecology of the “singer”. While observing, we recorded its behavior of singing for prolonged periods from morning to evening. Male humpback whales are known to produce complex sounds called “songs” mainly when in breeding areas and these males are called “singers”. There are various theories as to why the male whales sing, such as for courtship with females, or communication between males. However, a definitive reason is not known, so our surveys and research continue in order to shed light on this mystery.

Jan. 25, 2020

ID#: R-1253

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 6 groups, 11 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)
Motobu : 4 groups, 11 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 5 groups, 8 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)

Today in the waters off the coast of Motobu, the whale in the image (identification number: R-1253) was swimming together with another whale. These two humpback whales were also spotted together off the northwest coast of Ie Island. In Okinawa, humpback whales are most frequently seen in groups of two, one or three. On rare occasions we see a pod of around 10 whales. The two whales we saw today, will probably swim together for a few days. We know from our previous surveys that in Okinawa most of the time the individual whales form groups for a few hours or days and then separate and join different groups.

Jan. 24, 2020

ID#: R-1362

[Today's reports on humpback whale]
Kerama : 10 groups, 17 whales (2 pairs of mother and calf)
Motobu : 8 groups, 13 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)
Naha : 9 groups, 17 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)

Today we started whale surveys in the waters off the coast of Motobu. Today we spotted and identified the whale in the image (R-1362). R-1362 was seen last year along with a newborn calf (born that year). We were able to compare the mother’s and her calf’s tail fin photos with those taken last year, and they were a match. This confirms that R-1362 and her one-year-old calf were still together. R-1362 and her one-year old calf were also spotted on January 15th and 19th during surveys around the Kerama Islands. Humpback whale calves are known to separate from their mother and become independent at around 1 year old. It may be that for this calf, it might not be long before it separates from its mother and becomes independent somewhere in the waters of Okinawa.

Jan. 19, 2020

Mother and calf

[Today's reports on humpback whales]
Kerama : 5 groups, 9 whales (1 pair of mother and calf)
Motobu : -
Naha : 2 groups, 3 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)

Today in the waters around the Kerama Islands, the first calf for this year’s survey was spotted (it was a mother and its calf born this season). Today’s whale spotting information was provided by the whale watching operators in the waters near Naha and Motobu. We thank you for your cooperation!

Jan. 15, 2020

Survey in Kerama area

[Today’s reports on humpback whales]
Kerama : 2 groups, 3 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)
Motobu : -
Naha : 2 groups, 3 whales (0 pair of mother and calf)

Surveys of humpback whales have stated for this year! Our foundation conducts surveys in the waters around Okinawa Islands every year for more than 29 years now. The information in Naha area for today was provided from the whale whatching operators in Naha. We really appreciate their cooperation. We are planning to update this page with information every time we conduct humpback whale surveys around Okinawa. So stay tuned!

What is a Humpback Whale?

Humpback whales are one of the largest species of baleen whale, they range in length from 12 to 14 meters and weigh around 30 to 40 tons. Bumps on their head and long pectoral fins are their distinctive features. They are known to inhabit the seas around the world and seasonally migrate for feeding and breeding. During summer they feed in the cold waters of the North Pacific such as Russia and Alaska, then during winter they migrate to Hawaii, Mexico, Okinawa and the Ogasawara Islands to breed and to raise their young in the warmer waters.

Every year the humpback whales are observed from around the end of December through to the beginning of April by the whale watching industries that are flourishing in the Kerama Islands, on the Motobu Peninsula and near Naha City.

What is a Humpback Whale?

Identifying individuals by their flukes (a whale’s tail)

The forms and patterns on the ventral surfaces of the flukes of a humpback whale are like fingerprints and vary individually. There are white flukes, black flukes, flukes with white and black mixed. Even if there are the same color the edge of the tail could be jagged which makes every individual distinct. By using this feature, identifying individual humpback whales with photographs of their flukes is now being conducted around the world.

Identifying individuals by their flukes (a whale’s tail)
Identifying individuals by their flukes (a whale’s tail)

Surveys by the Okinawa Churashima Foundation on Humpback Whales

The foundation has been and is conducting surveys of Humpback Whales in order to understand their ecology and resource condition for more than 20 years.

In all this time we have identified approximately 1,700 humpback whales passing by the Kerama Islands and the Motobu Peninsula by identifying the individuals using gathered photographs. (2020 Present Time)
With this information we can estimate the number of humpback whales migrating and investigate their migration route. This is done by cooperating with domestic and foreign researchers along with the local people. We are also working to disseminate the survey results to the local whale watching industries and to children.

  • Surveys by the Okinawa Churashima Foundation on Humpback Whales
  • Surveys by the Okinawa Churashima Foundation on Humpback Whales
  • Surveys by the Okinawa Churashima Foundation on Humpback Whales
Okinawa Churashima Foundation Research Center
TEL:0980-48-2266( weekday 9:00 am - 6:00 pm )
FAX:0980-48-2200

 

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