AMAMI-OSHIMA, Kagoshima Prefecture--Humpback whales were spotted off Amami-Oshima island on Jan. 18, part of their migratory pattern that has created a tourism hotspot southwest of the main Kyushu island.
Every year, humpback whales travel down from northern waters to the Amami and Okinawa islands to breed and nurture their calves.
According to Katsuki Oki, chief of the Amami Whale and Dolphin Association, which has been monitoring the species in the area, 683 humpbacks were counted around Amami-Oshima island in 2017.
A steady number of humpbacks has been spotted since early December this season, and Oki said he expects the whales can be observed until late March or so.
"I would like (tour participants) to feel the sheer size of the whales and enjoy their spectacular spouting in a relaxing setting," Oki said.
Rumiko Kubota, 50, from Yokohama, who joined a whale watching tour on Jan. 18, said, "I had a great experience as I could see the whales in close proximity."
Another popular leisure activity offered here is "whale swimming," in which tourists can enter the water to observe the mammals.
Last spring, parts of the Amami island chain and their surroundings were collectively designated as the Amamigunto National Park. Whale watching has become a popular tourist attraction there.