The Shiretoko Peninsula is one of the remotest and wildest areas of Japan. In 2005 it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its incredible biodiversity. Life on the peninsula changes month by month, with brown bears marking the arrival of Spring by coming out of hibernation. As Spring progresses the whales start to arrive, with orcas, minkes, and sperm whales all visiting the rich waters off the coast. And as Summer moves into Autumn thousands of salmon fill the creeks. However, it’s the winter months which the peninsula is most famous for.
From January to February sea ice covers the Nemuro Strait off the shores of the peninsula. Becoming one of the southernmost places in the world where the sea is covered with ice. This unique phenomenon attracts Steller’s sea eagles and white-tailed eagles who gather in their hundreds on the ice. Fish left out by local fishermen creates one of the natural world’s most unique spectacles, as hundreds of eagles swoop down to take their fill. And if that wasn’t enough, the peninsula is also home to the one spot where, if you wait patiently, for a long enough time, you may well get to see the rare and elusive Blakiston’s fish owl!
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: a bus from Kushiro to the town of Rausu is around $80. From Rausu, a 2.5-hour sea-eagle tour costs around $100 (with a camera) or $80 without.
Best time to visit: the best time to see eagles is February when the drift ice covers the sea. However, you can visit the park at any time of the year. There’s a nice guide to the wildlife across the seasons we picked up in Rausu.
How to get there: there are two main entry points to the peninsula – Rausu and Utoro. If you want to see eagles or whales the best spot to head for is Rausu. You can get there by car or bus from Kushiro. There are around five buses a day and they take around 3.5 hours. Check the Akan Bus website for times – or ask at the bus station in Kushiro.
Typical activities: animal watching, bird watching, boat trip, hiking, whale watching
Number of reports: 2
WILDLIFE IN Shiretoko
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here are:
Steller’s sea eagle – 100% OF VISITORS (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The Shiretoko peninsula is famous for being one of the best places to get up-close sightings of the biggest eagle in the world. If you want to see sea eagles head to the town of Rausu on the eastern side of the peninsula in February. In Rausu you can arrange a tour out into the midst of the sea ice to see the eagles. The fishermen feed them so, if the ice is there, you are pretty much guaranteed amazing sightings. It really is an incredible spectacle to be this close to so many of these enormous birds. There are several tour operators in Rausu – we went with Shiretoko Nature Cruise – mainly because they have an English website where you can book a tour. The trip is highly recommended!
Blakiston’s fish owl – 0% of visitors (0/2) reported sightings
It’s not just large eagles that Shiretoko is famous for! Blakiston’s fish owls are the largest owls in the world – and one of the rarest. There are around 140 birds in Hokkaido and around half of them live in Shiretoko. The best spot – and probably the best chance you’ll ever have of seeing one of these owls in the wild – is also in Rausu.
The small, unassuming Washi No Yado Guesthouse has become world-famous thanks to the nightly visits of a pair of Blakiston’s fish owls. There is an observation room with strobe lighting set up so that you can see and photograph the owls as they visit the well-stocked river nearby. If you’re lucky you may even see them from your bedroom window! The owls are there year-round and chances of seeing them are high – although chances of getting a room can be low! Expect to book up to a year in advance if you want to reserve a space.
Orca – 100% of visitors (2/2) reported sightings
Orcas are called ‘gods of the sea’ in the local Ainu language. They visit the nutrient-rich waters off the peninsula when the sea ice starts to recede. Boats departing from Rausu offer whale watching tours during the Spring and Summer months. The whales are curious and are known to breach, spy hop, splash their tales against the surface, and approach boats to take a closer look. The orcas are typically seen from mid-March to June although they sometimes arrive early. We got lucky and were surrounded by a pod on our way to see the eagles in Feb. There’s a nice guide to the orcas of Shiretoko here.
White-tailed eagle – 100% of visitors (2/2) reported sightings
Alongside the Steller’s sea eagles, the ice flows off Rausu also attract hundreds of white-tailed eagles. While they are somewhat overshadowed by the larger, showier, Steller’s, white-tailed eagles are incredible birds in their own right. If you’re on a boat trip in February you can’t really miss them. Unlike Steller’s sea eagles, however, your chances of seeing them during the rest of the year are higher. While they are generally seen in winter, there is a group that is resident in Furen Lake and sightings in the peninsula have been recorded year-round.