Wildlife A Wealth of Wildlife

Drifting ice of Shiretoko Rausu and Steller's sea eagle
Hideo Kishimoto

Experts' Voice

"I love seeing the beautiful wild animals up close."
Yasunaga Ogita
Yasunaga Ogita
Polar explorer
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"The best! You can see whales and orcas from May to August."
Keizo Funatsu
Adventurer / General Manager of NIKI Hills Village
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"Rausu is an orca-watching spot like no other in the world."
Daisuke Sasaki
Mountain skier / International Mountain Guide
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"I still haven't forgotten the sight of the world's biggest owl."
Ting Pui
Ting Pui
Managing Director of Travel Alliance Japan
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"Shiretoko World National Heritage is worth visiting to enjoy the most precious and diverse wild life in Hokkaido."
Takayuki Shiraiwa
Takayuki Shiraiwa
Associate Professor, Dr. at the Institute of Low Temperature Science, Hokkaido University
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If you like seeing wildlife in their natural habitat, Hokkaido is the place for you! In addition to Yezo brown bears and a variety of rare birds, you can see animals such as Yezo deer and Yezo red foxes that can only be found in Hokkaido. Hokkaido also boasts one of the most diverse whale populations in northeast Asia, particularly in the uniquely contrasting ecosystems around the Shiretoko Peninsula where you can see sperm whales, orcas, baird's beaked whales and more.
 
There are all kinds of ways to see Hokkaido's abundance of wildlife - take a whale-watching cruise in Shiretoko, go canoeing in Kushiro, or go for a nature trek. There are even snowshoe treks in winter!
Sperm Whale Scientific name: Physeter macrocephalus
Size: 15-18m long
Weight: 35-45 tons
Diet: Various fish, squid, octopus
Orca Scientific name: Orcinus orca
Size: 7m to almost 10m long
Weight: Up to 6 tons
Diet: Fish, sea birds, squid, octopus, sea turtles. If they have trouble finding those foods, orcas will even eat sharks!

Some of the most diverse whale populations in northeast Asia

Orca
Orca bouncing in the sea
Shiretoko-Nature-Cruise

Parts of the waters around Hokkaido have some of the most diverse whale populations in northeast Asia, including one of East Asia's best spots for watching orcas.

The Sea of Okhotsk to the northeast of Hokkaido is home to 13 species of whales. Sperm whales and baird's beaked whales are often seen in the waters of Shiretoko, and minke whales pay a visit in spring and summer. Humpback whales can also be seen some years. Another whalewatcher's paradise is the Nemuro Strait, where migrating sperm whales can be seen from land in summer. In winter, the Sea of Okhotsk is covered with a unique natural phenomenon called drift ice, adding beautiful scenery to your whale-watching trip.

The diverse ecosystem of Shiretoko's seas

Shiretoko sea
Shiretoko sea
Hideo Kishimoto

The sea around the Shiretoko peninsula is extremely diverse, with the ecosystem in the waters of Shari and Utoro to the north differing greatly from that in the waters of Rausu to the south. The waters of Utoro are filled with drift ice in winter, attracting wildlife all the way up the food chain from plankton to whales. In the area up to 10 nautical miles offshore, the waters remain less than 100m deep in the middle of Abashiri Bay, and less than 200m deep in the area from the base to the tip of the peninsula. The seabed on the other side is just the opposite - in the area from the cape to Rausu, it drops off sharply at around 3 nautical miles offshore, reaching a depth of over 2,000m at 6 nautical miles from the shore. These contrasting depths attract many different species of whales.

The Yezo deer's miraculous return from extinction

Yezo deers
Yezo deers
Hideo Kishimoto

Yezo deer can be seen in many parts of Hokkaido, but this wasn't always the case. When settlers from the mainland began developing Hokkaido in the 19th century, the Yezo deer came perilously close to extinction as a railway was laid between Sapporo and Muroran and venison canning factories were built. The population shrunk so much that hunting of the deer was completely banned in 1889. Thankfully, Yezo deer breed prolifically, and the population regrew quickly. Hunting was briefly re-allowed, but overhunting took place again, bringing the Yezo deer back to the brink of extinction and prompting another ban on hunting that lasted until the mid-20th century. With the Yezo deer's strong breeding abilities, thorough protection measures and the extinction of its natural predator, the Yezo wolf, the Yezo deer population bounced back again, and the deer can now be seen in numerous areas of Hokkaido.

Stories

Things To Do

Both the land and seas of Hokkaido are rich in wildlife. The seas are home to a diverse and precious whale population, including sperm whales and orcas, as well as many seabirds. On land you'll find species that cannot be found anywhere else, such as Yezo brown bears and Yezo deer.

Whale Watching

Enjoy whale watching in the Nemuro Strait between the Shiretoko Peninsula and Kunashir Island in the Kuril Islands. The strait is shaped like a bay and the waves are comparatively calm, making it the ideal spot. Spring is a particularly good time, as the Nemuro Strait is teeming with orcas.

Recommended Tours

Shiretoko Nature Cruise
Shiretoko-Nature-Cruise

Birdwatching Cruise & Drift Ice Cruise

Shiretoko Nature Cruise
JA

A must for winter trips in particular. From January to April, you can take a cruise through the drift ice on the Sea of Okhotsk and see large eagles such as the Steller's sea eagle and white-tailed eagle. With around 700 of these birds, you'll have a 90% chance of spotting them! In summer you can see flocks of petrel (as well as whales and dolphins). Enjoy an up-close view of sperm whales spraying water and flipping their mighty tail fins, and dolphins and orcas swimming gracefully through the water. Take a cruise to see the wildlife that lives on the drift ice, such as seals and rare seabirds such as Steller's sea eagles and white-tailed eagles.

Webpage
Cruise ship
Cruise ship
Shiretoko Shari-cho Tourist Association

Rausu, Shiretoko Peninsula Cruise

Gojiraiwa Sightseeing
JA EN

Gojiraiwa Sightseeing's large cruise boats provide awe-inspiring encounters with sperm whales and orcas in the waters of Rausu, Shiretoko, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Webpage

See wildlife during nature activities

There are a range of nature activities on offer, such as canoeing and trekking, where you can see Hokkaido wildlife such as Yezo deer and Yezo red foxes.

Recommended Tours

Canoe, Kushiro River
Canoe at the Kushiro River in summer
LakesideToro

Canoeing in Kushiro

Lakeside Toro
JA

Each season brings new wildlife to see in Kushiro, including water plants, insects, white-tailed eagles and Yezo deer. The canoes are long and wide, making them stabler than the traditional Canadian canoes and less prone to tipping over.

Webpage
Blakiston's fish-owl
Blakiston's fish-owl
Hideo Kishimoto

Night wildlife watching

Shiretoko Nature Office
JA

See wildlife such as Yezo deer and Yezo red foxes at night when they are most active. You might see a whole herd of Yezo deer or a Yezo red fox hunting.

Webpage
Yezo sciurus vulgaris orientis in snow
Hideo Kishimoto

Trekking and Snowshoe Tour

Shiretoko Naturalist's Association
JA EN

This tour operator has tours to suit every season. In summer you can go trekking with a nature guide. You're particularly likely to see wildlife early in the morning - your chances of seeing Yezo deer are about 80%! In winter, you can strap on a pair of snowshoes and go for a walk on the snow. In parts of the forest that can't usually be explored on foot, you can see tracks of wildlife such as Yezo brown bears, and watch Yezo deer.

Webpage

Discovering Wildlife

Spring
Hideo Kishimoto
Summer
Hideo Kishimoto
Autumn
Hideo Kishimoto
Winter
Hideo Kishimoto

In some parts of Hokkaido, you might see a Yezo deer or Yezo red fox from the street! Various nature tours are available so you can see them in the wild.
 
There are several ways to see Hokkaido's abundant whale population. Kujira no Mieru Oka (Hill with a View of Whales) Park is one of only a few places in the world where you can watch sperm whales spraying water from on land. If you want a closer view, hop on a cruise boat and see whales and orcas up close!

Best Season To See

While the specific odds of seeing them differ from year to year, spring is the best time to see orcas and summer is the best time for sperm whales.

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Sperm whales
Minke whales
Orcas
: Best : Good : Possible

Getting Here

With wildlife cruises, treks and even canoe and snowshoe tours, there are plenty of ways to see Hokkaido's diverse wildlife!

1
Shiretoko Nature Cruise
2
Dock for Bear-Watching Cruise,Gojiraiwa Sightseeing
3
Lakeside Toro
4
Shiretoko Nature Office
5
Shiretoko Naturalist's Association

Dos & Don'ts

  • Be careful when walking on cruise boats. The boats for nature cruises are smaller than the likes of ferries, and tend to be tossed about by the waves. Be careful if you need to move around on the boat.
  • Don't forget warm clothing! Eastern Hokkaido is a cold area - it often doesn't reach 20℃ even in summer, and in winter it is below freezing point. It's even colder out on the sea, so be sure to bring warm clothes with you.
  • Be careful with your belongings. Take care not to slip and drop your camera into the sea, and be careful that it does not get splashed by the waves.