The waters around the Kerama Islands off Okinawa Island are famous for whale watching. Each year from January to April, humpback whales come to the area to breed and raise their calves. Their numbers have increased each year and now they are an eagerly awaited part of the winter scene in Okinawa.
Humpback whales come to the warm waters of Okinawa to breed. So much of the behavior of the whales seen around the Keramas is due to their breeding activity. For example, groups of males called mating pods vie with each other in what can sometimes be fierce fights. Whales are often seen with wounds received in these battles.
The whales breed in Kerama waters and then give birth the next winter. Mother whales are often seen with their calves in tow, a sight that is sure to delight. When the young grow big and strong enough, mothers and calves set out for the northern seas.
Humpbacks are said to be especially friendly towards people, more so than other whales. When they see a boatload of whale watchers, they draw near and put on a sort of performance, slapping their dorsal fins on the water, blowing and doing “spy hops,” shooting straight up out of the water and showing their faces. Some whales, in what seems to be a high-spirited sense of service, will show off by breaching, heaving their bodies two-thirds out of the water with their dorsal fins and twirl in the air before crashing back into the sea, tossing the boats about and drenching the watchers with spray. Truly, this moment gives one an unforgettable experience with these massive creatures of the deep.
Whale watching boats go out every day from late January to March. You can expect to see whales 80% of the time. In order to enjoy a safe tour and also protect these intelligent animals, whale watching associations are required to keep their boats 50-100 meters away from them.