Meeting Dolphins and Whales off the Ogasawara Islands
Dolphins, Whales, and World Heritage
Did you know that you can visit dolphins and whales in their natural habitat all year round—without leaving Tokyo?
The Ogasawara Islands (including the islands often known as the “Bonin Islands”) are an archipelago of 30 or so islands stretching from the Okinotori Atoll to Minamitori Island—Japan’s southernmost and easternmost points. Although far from the rest of Japan, for administrative purposes they’re considered part of Tokyo. Only two are inhabited: Chichijima and Hahajima, literally “Father Island” and “Mother Island” respectively. Known as the “Galapagos of the East,” in 2011 the Ogasawara Islands were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are becoming a popular destination for ecotourism.
There are many whale watching spots around Japan, from Okinawa to Hokkaido, but the Ogasawara Islands are the only place where whales can be observed at any time of year. More than 20 species are found in the area, and of these the sperm whale lives there all year, as do dolphins and porpoises. In fact, the Ogasawara Islands were the original home of whale watching in Japan.
Humpback whales are in the area from December through April, and are particularly popular among whale watchers. These whales prefer shallower waters for giving birth and raising calves, which means that they are often in the waters relatively close to the harbor, where the water is just 40 meters deep. As a result, they can even be seen from high points on the island, without boarding a boat at all!
On the other hand, sperm whales keep their distance, usually staying at least 10 km from shore. Since they can only be viewed from the deck of a boat, the best season is from May through December, when the waters are calmer, although of course when conditions and luck cooperate they can be observed at any time of year.
Next page: “Swimming with wild dolphins“