White Orca (Shiretoko, Hokkaido)

In May 2023, a ‘white killer whale’ appeared in the Nemuro Strait after two years of absence.

White orca / killer whale at Shiretoko, Hokkaiado 白いシャチ

The contrasting color of black and white is a characteristic of killer whales. But this orca’s entire body is white, so the eyepatch and saddle patch are not visible unless you look closely.

After the first observation of two of them separately in the Nemuro Strait in 2019, two white killer whales swimming together made headlines in 2021. And after two years, this year (2023), one white killer whale was seen off Rausu Port.

According to a Japanese news website, he is a “mature male”, “nearly seven metres long by eye measurement”, “at least nearly 50 years old” and “most likely the same individual as the first white killer whale identified in Japan”.

It is not known whether it is an albino (Albinism), which cannot produce melanin due to a genetic abnormality, or a white variant (Leucism) due to mutation. It looks like a white variant because it does not have the characteristic red eyes of an albino and its body colour is greyish.

Pod of 13 killer whales. The colour white is said to be a disadvantage in the race for survival, as it is easily noticeable in nature, but this individual has been able to grow well.

All boats are busy with the rare appearance of ‘white Orca’.


The tip of the dorsal fin is bent slightly to the left.

Abrasions under the dorsal fin on the left side of the body.

White orca swim peacefully against the backdrop of the snow-capped mountains of the Shiretoko Peninsula. We look forward to seeing them back in Shiretoko next year!。


Photo & Video : Shohei MORITA(Shiretoko Serai) Text : Wataru YAMOTO

Observation : May 2023, Rausu – Nemuro Strait, Hokkaido

Contact us  to make arrangements for photographing Orcas of Shiretoko – Nemuro Strait from April to July.

★Wildlife videos are also available on Youtube – we have the playlist as well.

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The Sea of Izu Oshima: The Underwater Geopark (2)

Diving in Izu Oshima. The special here is that you can see Hammerhead sharks by the beach dives.

Dive in Izu Oshima| Hammerhead shark  Izu Oshima Diving

This is the entry point of the lava coast, a trail made from the lava flow that is a maze-like diving path. This is where you can see where the namesake “Underwater Geopark” comes from.

Underwater Geopark,Keikai Beach, Izuoshima, 海底ジオパークのようなケイカイを行くオーナー

I was diving in the path formed by the lava flow. This was right at daybreak, the sea is still quite dark.

ハンマーヘッドシャーク ケイカイ浜 伊豆大島 Hammerhead Shark Izu Oshima keikai Beach (4)

As soon as we were in the water, we could see the hammerhead sharks. They appeared, one after the other, in a group of 5 and then up to 30 individuals. At about 15m (50ft) depth, we could feel the current of the tide coming on but I was clinging to a rock to keep observing the sharks. Even beginners, could have a good chance to see the sharks here so it is a really great spot!

ハンマーヘッドシャーク ケイカイ浜 伊豆大島 Hammerhead Shark Izu Oshima keikai Beach (3)

Hammerheads were coming straight towards us. And boy were they close!

ハンマーヘッドシャーク ケイカイ浜 伊豆大島 Hammerhead Shark Izu Oshima keikai Beach (2)

Every morning, immediately after the sunrise is the best chance to encounter these hammerhead sharks. They are seen in the area from mid-June to mid-October, and we went diving 3 times, and saw them each time.

ハンマーヘッドシャーク ケイカイ浜 伊豆大島 Hammerhead Shark Izu Oshima keikai Beach

Perhaps they are aiming for the first meal of the day at some first class feeding spot, rising from the depths along with the rising sun?

お祝いの飾り、ハンマーヘッドシャーク 100本記念ケーキ

This was a little cake decoration to commemorate the 100th dive of one of our tour members. It was an image of the “Keikai’s Hammerheads” handmade for them by the Saiyu staff.


Image & text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Sep 2021, Keikai Beach, Izu-oshima, Tokyo, JAPAN

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Scuba Diving Amami Oshima

This is a report of a diving trip in Amami Oshima in May. The main focus of this trip was for observing the white-spotted pufferfish, Torquigener albomaculosus. Ten of the 15 dives were to witness the process of circle-making pufferfish, and the remaining 5 dives were planned for seeing the other spectacular creatures of Amami.

This is the season for broadclub cuttlefish spawning. Originally, I was planning to observe the broadclub cuttlefish but this year their numbers was so small that we could not see group spawning that typically happens. Behind the Porites cylindrica are some broadclub cuttlefish eggs. You can see the baby inside, it’s still so very small.

コブシメの体色変化 color change of Broadclub cuttlefish

The amazing ability of the broadclub cuttlefish to change colors is interesting. When I get too close to it, it expresses its bad mood and turned black, but after I moved off a little, it started to mimic the surrounding, lol!

Swimming male Red Fairy Anthias Pseudanthias cooperi, which were at the bottom of a sandy area. The school of Luminous cardinalfish, Rhabdamia gracilis so beautifully swimming and framing the background.

Right at the edge of the reef, a big school of Golden sweepers, Parapriacanthus ransonneti.

ゾウゲイロウミウシ Hypselodoris bullockii 奄美大島ダイビング Amami Oshima Scuba Diving (10)
Photography by Chizuko MURATA

I photographed the nudibranch Hypselodoris bullockii on a red sponge. It looks like a pattern on a Japanese traditional cloth.

Japanese pygmy seahorse 奄美大島ダイビング Amami Oshima Scuba Diving (10)
Photography by Chizuko MURATA

One of the highlights of this diving spot is that we can see pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus bargibanti at a shallow depth of 15m. This pygmy seahorse, which attaches to the red or yellow soft coral. It will mimic with amazing accuracy and becomes the same color as the coral, even mimicking the polyps. When it was first pointed out to me in Ogasawara, I could not even see it, but now, after several opportunities to see it, over and over again, I have gotten just a little better at spotting it.

And this is the “Great Buddha” Coral. It is a large common coral group called Pavona clavus.

The Amethyst anthias, Pseudanthias pascalus schooling above the coral.

The breeding colors of an Amethyst anthias male with a yellow tail

ハナゴイ乱舞 Purple queen wild dance(Videography by Chizuko MURATA)

It was so spectacular to see the little Amethyst anthias, which looked like falling rain at times.

The Bubble coral shrimp Vir philippinensis. It was holding an egg.

And the highlight of this tour, is the observation of the white-spotted pufferfish circles. The ocean bottom is a fine sand, and you have to be very careful about not messing it up. After staying a while, it will become cloudy.

A rainy day with poor water clarity, looks like this. Because of the depth and the risk of having bad visibility, those who want to observe the pufferfish closely, should make sure they have multiple diving chances.

Putting the finishing touches on the pufferfish’s circle.

This is the completed circle. For these small fish to do all the work using their bodies, who work on the circle and don’t seem to look at it from above, it is quite an impressive feat.

Now, it is just about attracting the female. This is the diligent male white-spotted pufferfish.

The next day, in the center of the circle where the eggs were laid (the gray mass in the middle). After this, the male will take care of the eggs and the circle will no longer be maintained.

I stayed at Amami Oshima for 6 consecutive nights, and I was really looking forward to the daily meals. Every day is a glorious feast! Octopus, cuttlefish, yellowfin tuna, other seabream species, green turban, … the list goes on!

It was rainy season in Amami Oshima, but during this diving tour we made sure to plan a way to enjoy the ocean and the bounty of food it provides. Thank you to everyone who joined the tour, to our underwater guide-Dive Species Amami, Mr and Mrs. Suwa!

Images & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Some photographs and video: Chizuko MURATA
Observation: May 2022, Amami-Oshima
Special Thanks: Dive Species Amami, Mr. Homare SUWA

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(Video) It’s Bigeye Trevally Season! Aguni Island

粟国島 ギンガメトルネード AGUNI DIVE IN JAPAN

In May, I visited the Aguni Islands for the bigeye trevally season. We not only got to see schools of bigeye<GINGAME-AJI> making a tornado of fish, we also got to see the giant trevally <ROUNIN-AJI>as well as school of dogtooth tuna<ISO-MAGURO>. There were breeding colored bigeye trevally and the sea was bursting full of life!


Image & text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation: May 2021, Aguni Island, Okinawa

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Sand Tiger Shark (Ogasawara Island: Chichijima)

小笠原 二見湾の沈船のシロワニ (7) Sand Tiger Shark - Bonin Island Japan

When talking about “Scuba diving in Ogasawara Island,” it is almost synonymous as saying “Sand Tiger Sharks.” (shirowani in Japanese). They are bottom dwellers, normally found in small caves but encountering them in a shipwreck dive is quite dramatic.

In Chichijima -Futami Bay, there are many ships that were attacked during World War II. Just diving around these wrecksites can be impressive enough by itself, but add in a sand tiger shark or two and it becomes exceptional.

Sand Tiger Shark at Shipwreck, Bonin island Japan|西遊旅行

There are many different ways that the ships may have ended up on the bottom; some have fallen apart as they sank after having been hit directly, some that sank in their original upright position, and yet others that are completely on their side when they sank to the seafloor.

Sand Tiger Sharks have their favorite places where they like to hang out, and sometimes we got to see more than one at a time!

小笠原 二見湾の沈船のシロワニ (3) Sand Tiger Shark - Bonin Island Japan

The sharks swam over me slowly and it really gave me the chills! I want to keep watching this scene, but I must get ready to surface. We are in the deep water, so we cannot linger here too long and must start making our slow ascent back up to the surface.

小笠原 二見湾の沈船のシロワニ (4) Sand Tiger Shark - Bonin Island Japan

Our last moments with the Sand tiger shark!

小笠原 二見湾の沈船のシロワニ (8) Sand Tiger Shark - Bonin Island Japan

This was the last one we saw, who was swimming among the Striped jack. Right after we saw this Shark, we returned to the surface.

Image & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Oct 2020, Chichijima, Futami Bay, Ogasawara Islands

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Banded Pipefish Incubating Their Eggs (Yakushima)

オイランヨウジ Banded pipefish 屋久島 (1)

We observed this pair of Banded pipefish in Yakushima’s Isso bay. The pipefish have a white body with many reddish-brown horizontal stripes that cover it from the mouth to the tail fin. The gorgeous tail fin reminds me of the beautiful “Oiran” that Japanese high-ranking courtesans use.

オイランヨウジのペア(屋久島)A Pair of Ringed pipefish

オイランヨウジ Banded pipefish 屋久島 (6)

The male banded pipefish has a pouch that incubates the eggs. There can be up to 100 eggs which hatch after about 10 days. The fries are about 6mm when they emerge.

オイランヨウジ Banded pipefish 屋久島 (3)

Banded pipefish eat zooplankton. The entrance to this pair’s rock crevice was surrounded by little tiny fries and they were busy feeding on them.


Image & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Jun 2021, Yakushima, Kagoshima

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(Video) A Baby Sperm Whale Came to Play With Us! (Ogasawara)

小笠原 父島 マッコウクジラ マッコウクジラの子供 Bonin Island Sperm Whale (2)

In October, we encountered a baby sperm whale off the coast of Chichijima in Ogasawara. It seemed like the calf was a bit upset, but also a bit curious about the ship. Everyone on the ship was very excited to see it!

Ogasawara A Baby Sperm Whale Came to Play With Us!


Image & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Oct 2020, Chichijima, Ogasawara Islands
Special Thanks: FISH EYE

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(Video) An Asian Sheepshead Wrasse Named “Yoriko” in Hasama’s Underwater Park (Tateyama, Chiba)

館山 TATEYAMA diving 頼子 Yoriko コブダイ Asian sheepshead wrasse (2)

The Hasama Underwater Park is located just on the border between Tokyo Bay and the Pacific Ocean, and it is within 2 hours travel time from the city center. The Underwater Park is rich with fish because of the input of nutrition from the freshwater rivers and the Kuroshio Current running along the coast of Japan. This place is quite famous for the underwater shrine Torii and ‘Yoriko’ the Asian sheepshead wrasse.

YORIKO Asian sheepshead wrasse コブダイの頼子・波左間海中公園

The Asian sheepshead wrasse is called “Kobudai” in Japanese (as if it was a member of the Sea Bream family), it is a member of the wrasse family, and is a “hermaphroditic” species which can change sex between male and female. It first matures as a female and breeds, then changes sex to a male and participates in breeding again.

This “Yoriko” used to be a female paired with a male named “Yoritomo,” but one day “Yoritomo” disappeared perhaps because he lost the battle for territory. Following that development, “Yoriko” then became a male and has stayed that way to the present day. The lifespan of the Kobudai is thought to be about 20 years long, but “Yoriko” has already exceeded 30 years of age. He has come to be a very cherished and well-loved fish at the Hasama Underwater Park and taken on a mystic-natured creature who time has forgotten.

館山 TATEYAMA diving 頼子 Yoriko コブダイ Asian sheepshead wrasse

This is the famous underwater shrine, the only kind in the world, in the Hasama Underwater Park. It is an authentic shrine that was built in 1997 as a branch of the Susaki Shrine in Tateyama.

館山 TATEYAMA diving Seapen ヤナギウミエラ (2)

Another famous place in the Hasama Underwater Park is the “Sea Pen Colony” (in Japanese it is called ‘Yanagi-umiera’). It was the first time I could see these! Depending on the tide, it may or may not appear on the surface of the sand, so I felt so lucky to see the colony. The English name “Sea pen” is because of the resemblance to a Quill pen!

館山 TATEYAMA diving Seapen ヤナギウミエラ

A colony of the Sea Pens Virgularia halisceptrum .

館山 TATEYAMA diving dream

There are many other areas for great fish sightings as well. There is a fish-reef called “Dream” where the scenery created by the soft corals and Sea goldie, as well as Redbar anthias and Cooper’s Fairy Basslets. 。

館山 TATEYAMA diving タカノハダイのクリニーニングステ-ション

This is the Spottedtail morwong cleaning station. The name for the fish in Japanese is “Takanoha dai” derived from the Japanese word for “Hawk feather” which is “Taka no ha.” This is based on the similarity of the stripes that are seen on hawk feathers, The polka dots on the tail also really catch my attention.

館山 TATEYAMA diving 仲がいいミギマキ

Here is a friendly pair of redlip morwongs.

Image: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Jun 2021, Hasama Marine Park, Tateyama, CHIBA

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Rausu’s Drift Ice Cruise and the Drift Ice in the Port of Rausu・The Steller’s Sea Eagle and White-tailed Eagle

This is a winter report from the Shiretoko Peninsula, Rausu (Hokkaido).

This year the drift ice season in Rausu was very short. The morning we arrived in Rausu, the staff at the lodging, Shiretoko Serai informed us right away, “Until last night, the conditions for the drift ice were very good, but the westerly wind is blowing, so its possible the drift ice might be gone by night time.”
Due to the strong winds, the dawn cruise was cancelled, but luckily we could get a 9am cruise where we could see the Port of Rausu full of drift ice.

羅臼 流氷クルーズ オオワシ オジロワシ Rausu Drift Ice Cruise Steller's Sea Eagle (6) Wildlife of Hokkaido

This is how it looks in the Fishing Port of Rausu with the accumulated Drift Ice. There are Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-tailed Eagles feeding in the photo. If one takes the photo zoomed in, without the port in the background, you can get surprisingly great photos that make the eagles look like they are in a very natural spot.

Sea Eagles on drift ice Rausu(Rausu’s Drift Ice Cruise 羅臼の流氷クルーズ)|西遊旅行 Saiyu Travel

Image & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Feb 2021, Rausu, Hokkaido

*Contact  us, Saiyu Travel for more information about wildlife and bird watching in Hokkaido. We can make various arrangements for your trip. We have a guesthouse, Shiretoko Serai, in Rausu, Shiretoko Peninsula.

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Pink Salmon Swimming Upstream : Autumn on the Shiretoko Peninsula

カラフトマス 知床半島 秋 遡上 Pink Salmon run Shiretoko Peninsula (3)

Pink Salmon, called “Kurafuto masu” in Japanese, return to the rivers on the Shiretoko Peninsula. These salmon came from the rivers and migrated out into the Northern seas for about two years; then return to their natal rivers to spawn.

These salmon just in front of me are on the verge of death. The Pink Salmon embody the very raw ‘act of living’ in their tattered appearance. We, who eat these salmon, must have gratitude in our hearts.

Salmon Run- Pink Salmon Going Upstream in the Fall in Shiretoko Peninsula

Compared to other salmon species, the Pink Salmon do not have a strong “Homing Instinct” and will swim upstream of any freshwater rivers nearby. In the year this video was filmed (2016), the peninsula had experienced 3 typhoons in mid-August. This had caused the salmon net that had been set along the coast to come loose, and it enabled a large number of salmon to make it upstream.

カラフトマス 知床半島 秋 遡上 Pink Salmon run Shiretoko Peninsula (1)

Pink Salmon that were caught in the net.

カラフトマス 知床半島 秋 遡上 Pink Salmon run Shiretoko Peninsula (4)

This is the mass of Pink salmon gathered at the bottom of a waterfall. Their dorsal fins are sticking out from the surface of the water.

カラフトマス 知床半島 秋 遡上 Pink Salmon run Shiretoko Peninsula (2)

A Pink salmon trying to swim up the waterfall.

知床半島 羅臼のヒグマ 秋  (2)

A Brown bear that has caught a salmon. This is the time of year that the brown bears are the thinnest and can be seen desperately chasing the Pink salmon.


Image & text: Mariko SAWADA
(Photos/video are from a trip in Aug 2016 & Sep 2017)
Location: Rausu, Shiretoko Peninsula, Hokkaido

Special Thanks : Shiretoko Diving Kikaku 知床ダイビング企画

*Contact  us, Saiyu Travel for more information about wildlife and bird watching in Hokkaido. We can make various arrangements for your trip. We have a guesthouse, Shiretoko Serai, in Rausu, Shiretoko Peninsula.

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