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Whale Watching
An Impressive Experience to Encounter in Okinawa! A Whale Watching Guide

*Photo: Zamami Whale Watching Association

From January to March, the ocean around Okinawa is in full action.
This is the season when humpback whales are confirmed to be off the coast of Zamami Island, and the best season for whale watching is finally here!

There are boats you can board from the main island and Kerama Island every day for whale watching tours that offer a glimpse of the lives of whales. The dynamic and emotional encounters with whales will surely be an unforgettable experience!

Here, we will cover facts about whales, things you should know before going on a tour, and other useful information.

What kind of whales can I see on a whale watching tour?

The humpback whales travel all the way to the Kerama Islands from the north. Their characteristics include being about 15 meters in length and roughly 30 tons in weight with large pectoral fins and a tail fin that resembles a fan.

Their pectoral fins are about one-third the length of their bodies and can reach as much as 5 meters in length. Their dynamic movements are truly impressive!

Why do the whales come to the ocean around Okinawa?

Humpback whales spend the summers in the northern seas and begin to travel south in the fall where they are seen around the Ogasawara Islands and Okinawa.
They travel an incredible distance of about 9,000 km!

After satisfying their appetites in the waters near Alaska over the spring and summer, the well nourished humpback whales travel to the waters near Okinawa over the fall and winter to give birth and raise their calves.

You may even get a lovely sight of whales swimming with their calves during the tour.

You may even get a lovely sight of whales swimming with their calves during the tour

The Kerama waters around Tokashiki Island and Zamami Island to the west of Okinawa Main Island are the well known whale watching mecca. Other areas, including Northern Okinawa and Ie Island, also offer whale watching tours.

There are many starting points of the tour, including Naha, Yomitan, and Onna on the main island, as well as Zamami Island.

For example, you may want to take your time sightseeing on the main island, then enjoy whale watching! For those who prefer that, one of the convenient highlights is that you can choose to depart from the main island or take your time sightseeing on an outlying island and depart from there based on your travel style!

What do I need to prepare for whale watching?

Sunscreen: The sun in Okinawa can be strong even in the winter. When the weather is nice, you may even get a tan. Pack sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses, and do not forget skin care!

Medicine for motion sickness: Medicine for motion sickness is essential for those who easily get sea sick! Take it before boarding. When you are on board, finding a breezy spot and looking out into the distance is supposed to prevent you from getting sea sick.

Wear something warm and waterproof: The sea wind is cold during this season even in Okinawa. Take the tour in warm clothes that can get a little wet. You will be even better prepared with a towel!

Clothes that are easy to move around in: Even on days when the waves are calm, walking on the boat can be very unstable. Please avoid skirts and high heels, and instead, wear sneakers and clothes that are easy to move around in!

Knowing this will double the fun! Common movement patterns of humpback whales on the surface.

1. Blow

The breath they exhale on the surface. The white mist can reach as high as 3-5 m.

2. Peduncle arch

Returning to the surface in an arc form after repeating the blow.

3. Tail slap

Lifting the tail fin high up and swinging it down straight to create a loud noise and splash. Whether on the dorsal fin side or the abdominal side, it is quite a menacing move.

4. Fluke up and down

Diving into the ocean (after the peduncle arch) and lifting the tail fin on the surface. It is called a fluke up when you see the lower (ventral) side and fluke down if you do not.

5. Peduncle scrap

Lifting the rear half of the body on the surface and pounding on the surface (or on top of another whale) sideways. Quite aggressive. Commonly seen in mating pods (*).

*Male whales fighting over a female.

6. Peck scrap

Turning sideways, exposing the pectoral fin while tapping on the surface. They may also turn their abdominal side up and pound both pectoral fins.

7. Head Slap

Exposing one-third of the body above the surface, then falling forward chin first. It is a dynamic move with splashes all around the head.

8. Spy Hop

Lifting the body vertically while maintaining the position of the eyes horizontally and sinking in slowly, rotating the body.

9. Breach

Floating about two-thirds of the body on the surface and jumping, then rotating the body. There are various types such as falling from the back like a Fosbury Flop. It is a popular move that offers a lot of excitement.

Now, let’s go out to see the whales!

Now, you are all ready! Are you ready to go on a whale watching tour?

Zamami Whale Watching 2017
Schedule (Days) Tuesday, December 27, 2016 – tentatively early April, 2017
Departure Time 10:30 / 13:00
Duration Approx. 2 hours
Check-In Location Zamami Whale Watching Association (Zamami Port)
Address Frontage 1, Zamami, Zamami, Shimajiri
Service Fee Adult: 5,400 yen / Child: 2,700 yen
*Ferry fare from Naha to Zamami not included.
Contact  Zamami Whale Watching Association
Whale Watching on a Cruise Liner
Schedule (Days) Monday, December 26, 2016 – Friday, March 31, 2017
Schedule (Times)  8:30 – 12:30 / 13:00 – 17:00
Check-In Location Topmarine Zanpa
Address 33 Toya, Yomitan, Nakagami, Okinawa (Yomitan Fishery Cooperative Association Building B1)
Parking 100 vehicles
Service Fee Adult (ages 12 and up): 4,900 yen / Child (ages 6-11): 3,900 yen / Child (ages 0-5): 600 yen
Contact  Topmarine Zanpa
Go with a Whale Guide! Whale Watching 2017
Schedule (Days) Friday (holiday), December 23, 2016 – Sunday, April 9, 2017
Schedule (Times) Morning: 8:30 departure – 12:30 return / Afternoon: 13:30 departure – 17:30 return
Check-In Location Seasir Naha Branch
*Free pickup from hotels in Naha (prior reservation required)
Parking 20 vehicles
*Free parking available at Naha Coastal Fishing Port
Service Fee Adult: 4,200 yen (w/tax) / Ages 6-12: 3,000 yen (w/tax) / Ages 5 and under: Free
Contact Marine House SEASIR
Wintertime Only Whale Watching! Depart from Naha/Chatan: Half-Day Tour
Schedule (Days) Friday (holiday), December 23, 2016 – Sunday, April 9, 2017
Schedule (Times) Depart from Naha: 9:00 – 12:00 / 13:30 – 16:30
Depart from Chatan: 9:30 – 12:30 / 13:30 – 16:30
*Check in 30 minutes early
Departure Location Naha Miejo Port; 2-20 Nishi, Naha / Chatan Uminchu Wharf; 54 Mihama, Chatan
Parking Naha: Miejo Port Parking: 500 yen (daily)
Chatan: Hamagawa Fishing Port: Free (facility use fee of 100 yen per adult applies)
Tour Fee Adult (ages 12 and up): 4200yen / Child (ages 3-11): 3200 yen / Child (ages 2 and under): Free
Whale Watching Cruiser Charter
Schedule (Days) Tuesday, December 27, 2016 – Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Schedule (Times) Morning: 8:30 – 12:30 / Afternoon: 12:30 – 16:30
Check-In Location Miejyo Port Waiting Area
Address 3-20 Nishi, Naha
Parking 10+ vehicles
Service Fee 60,000 yen
Contact  Joy Create Okinawa Tea-Da
Whale Watching by Total Marine Spot News
Schedule (Days) Friday (holiday), December 23, 2016 – Thursday, April 6, 2017
Schedule (Times) Morning: 9:00 – 12:00 / Afternoon: 13:30 – 16:30
Check-In Location Miejyo Port Waiting Area
Address 3-20 Nishi, Naha
Parking 500 yen/day
Service Fee Adult: 4,200 yen (ages 12 and up) / Child: 3,200 yen (ages 3-11) / Child: Free (ages 0-2)
Contact  Total Marine Spot News
Short Landing on Nagannu Island Included! Whale Watching Departing from Naha
Schedule (Days) Sunday (holiday), January 1 – Friday, March 31, 2017
Schedule (Times) Morning: 8:30 – 12:30 / Afternoon: 13:30 – 17:30 / *Mornings only in January
Check-In Location Tomari Port
Address 3-14-2 Tomari, Naha, Okinawa
Parking 3-14-2 Tomari, Naha, Okinawa
Service Fee Paid parking available nearby: Tomari Port Tomarin Parking
You’ll Never Forget the Emotional Encounter! Whale Watching Tour
Schedule (Days) Saturday, January 7 – Friday, March 31, 2017
Schedule (Times) 1st: 9:00 check-in / 9:30 departure 2nd: 13:00 check-in / 13:30 departure Duration: 3 hours
Duration 3 hours
Departure Location Chatan Uminchu Wharf (General Information Desk)
Address 54 Mihama, Chatan
Parking Available; 100 vehicles
Service Fee  Jr. high school students or older: 4,200 yen / Age 4 to Elementary school students: 3,200 yen / Ages 3 and under: Free
 Contact Chatan Uminchu no Kai
D’s-Pulse Okinawa Whale Watching
Schedule (Days) Saturday, January 7 – Sunday, April 2, 2017
Schedule (Times) Morning: 9:00 – 12:00 / Afternoon: 13:30 – 16:30
Check-In Location Miejyo Port Waiting Area
Parking 500 yen/day
Free pickup / drop-off to / from hotels in Naha available
Service Fee Adult: 4,200 yen / Child: ages 11 and under: 3,200 yen
Contact  D’s-Pulse Okinawa
2-26-6 Akebono, Takada Akebono Mansion 1F, Naha