Winter Cruises (Drift Ice and Bird Watching)
The town of Rausu on the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido garners attention from around the world, especially in winter.
Tourists come as far away as Europe to observe a couple of species of rare eagles, namely white-tailed sea eagles and Steller’s sea eagles.
In fact, one of the main reasons why Shiretoko is registered as a World Heritage site is that it is “a breeding and winter nesting site for internationally rare species of birds, such as Blakiston’s fish owls, Steller’s sea eagles and white-tailed sea eagles.”
These species of eagles fly to Rausu from Kamchatka, a peninsula in the northeastern part of Russia, during winter, and are closely linked with the abundance of Alaska pollock in the area.
This is because the eagles and the fish are a part of the same ecosystem that is greatly influenced by drift ice — thus, the lesser the amount of Alaska pollock caught, the lesser the number of white-tailed sea eagles seen.
For those who would like to encounter these eagles, we recommend you come to Rausu in February and March.
These are the best months to see the eagles up close, as the drift ice arrives at the Nemuro Strait and cuts it off from the outside ocean, forming a calm, waveless pool where hundreds of white-tailed sea eagles and Steller’s sea eagles gather.
During winter when drift ice and bird watching cruises are in season, the Aruran III generally departs Rausu before sunrise.
On these cruises, you will get to take beautiful photos of the eagles perched on drift ice, against a backdrop of the sun rising from Kunashiri Island.
In early spring when the seasonal sea ice enters the Nemuro Strait is when you are likely to see different species of seals, such as spotted seals and ribbon seals.
Out of these species, harbor seals are the only one that reproduces in Hokkaido; the rest give birth on the drift ice while it is out on the Sea of Okhotsk, and come with the ice to Rausu and other parts of Hokkaido in winter.
The Nemuro Strait, while occupied by the sea ice, has an abundance of krill and fishes, and is also safe for these marine animals to raise pups.
Come to Rausu in early spring to encounter various species of eagles and seals playing on the ice.
Indulge in a special experience that can only be enjoyed here and nowhere else!
The Aruran III conducts its winter cruises from the end of January to the end of March.
Normally, the drift ice arrives in the Nemuro Strait around the beginning of February.
The best season to observe white-tailed sea eagles and Steller’s sea eagles is between February and March.
If you are lucky, you will get to meet seals and Clione, or sea angels, around March.
Get on board the Aruran III between February and March — when drift ice is in the strait — for a calm cruise experience that lets you see the eagles up close!