Shiretoko Lies in the north eastern part of Hokkaido. The Shiretoko national park, listed in world heritage site in 2005, features natural beauties where the sea is directly connected to the forest. With very less plain lands, the peninsula is formed of Sulphur mountains (formed by a volcano burst in 1936) and Shiretoko Rensan mountains. Also, there are a lot of fast flowing rivers formed by the water from Shiretoko Lakes or Rausu Lakes mixing into the sea directly. Due to this rare environment, you can find many rare species of wildlife living in the Peninsula. One of many features of Shiretoko is that you are able to meet / see most of endangered wildlife here. Bird species like Steller’s Sea Eagle or white-tailed eagle come to Shiretoko with the flow of drift ice.
The largest owl of the world, .Blakiston’s Fish Owl or the rare spectacled guillemot can be found in Shiretoko.
Not the endangered animal, but mammals like Ezo Shika deer or Ezo Bear, which is also called the king of Shiretoko can be found too. Sometimes, Marine mammals like spotted seal, Killer Whale approach the peninsula. In summer, you may be able to observe the Sperm Whales, which have an ability to swim at sea as deep as 1000m down from the surface. In autumn, Shiretoko becomes a good market for fish species like Salmon. Since the geography under the sea is complicated, we can find fish species from shallow level to deep parts of the sea. One of high quality food ingredients, Kelp, is exported from Hokkaido to all parts of japan.
Wildlife of Shiretoko
Blakiston’s Fish Owl
Blakiston’s Fish Owl is largest owl of the world and is listed in IV category in the Red Data Book of Japan’s Ministry of Environment as an endangered animal. Inside Japan, its only available in Hokkaido. There is a pair living by the river and surviving by eating trout etc. from the river. In Ainu Language (a local language inside Hokkaido), they are called [Kotankoro Kamui] which means [the god which defends the village]. Hence, Blakiston’s Fish Owl is very important existence for the local. • When they open the wings completely, its around 180cm, and it is considered that there are almost 400 numbers in north Hokkaido. Since the body is big, they are weak at moving fast. Sometimes, cathing the fishes at lightened fish ports are also witnessed. They can be observed / taken picture throughout the year in [Washi No Yado] at Shiretoko Peninsula.
Steller's Sea Eagle
Steller’s Sea Eagle can be observed in Rausu from the beginning of January to the beginning of March every year. They can sometimes also be found in the trees, but for the beautiful shots, an early morning drift cruise is recommended. A posture of skidding in the drift ice trying to catch their food can be captured as well. The best shutter chance is while the sun comes up from Kunashir Islands in the morning. The morning cruise in winter is extremely cold, please be prepared with the cold protection. The Stellar’s Sea Eagle are largest of eagles in the world and represent Okhotsk Area. Having around 230cm while completely opening the wings, they are considered to be the largest birds that are found in Japan. They live in Okhotsk area most of the time and come to Hokkaido in winter mostly in flowing drift ice. They are listed in the Red Date Book of the Environment Ministry of Japan at II category and are national property of Japan.
white-tailed Eagle, like Stellar’s sea Eagle come to Rausu in flowing drift ice in February ~ March. When the bigger size White-tailed Eagle open the wings completely, the size is up to 200cm. Generally white-tailed eagles are birds found in the winter, but since there are group of these in Shiretoko Peninsula, Furen Lake, Notsuka Peninsula, these can be observed even if its not winter. The baby white-tailed eagles are brown in color, sometimes similar to Stellar’s sea eagle. The way to distinguish the two is, the mandible is different. The mandible of white-tailed eagle, compared to Stellar’s Sea Eagle is smaller, and the color is light yellow. These are found in Eurasia’s Mid-high Latitude region, are listed as endangered species by the ministry of Environment an are the national property of Japan.
if you take a cruise boat from the sea coast in summer, these are often seen at the Utoro part of Shiretoko Peninsula. They have dark red feet and white pattern around the eyes. Most often, they breed at Teuri Islands or at the pacific side of Doto in Hokkaido. They were also found in the Honshu (the main of four islands of Japan) part of Japan once, but seem to be unavailable these days. They are mostly found in the sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan, and their breeding spots are scattered around the lands in the sea. They are listed at endangered II list in RDB (Red Date Book) of the ministry of Environment, also listed as endangered species in RDB of Hokkaido.
At the same time when the killer whales are seen in early summer, the Short-trailed shearwater species come to Nemuro strait of Hokkaido in a big number. Generally, they breed near the Tasmania islands of Australia and travel around Pacific Ocean in northern hemisphere except their breeding period. They are often seen in Bering Sea and Okhotsk Sea. They fly with their fast-moving wings and when the number is high, they seem to cover the surface of the sea with their black shadow. The number in one herd of this seabirds’ ranges from some thousands to some ten thousand.
These small birds have a beautiful brown color from their hard to the back. In Japan, they mostly breed in Hokkaido. Good thing is that they are not often frightened by the presence of human, so photography from a very less distance is possible. If you are walking around the forest of Shiretoko Peninsula, they are seen often. The number are relatively high near the top of hills. On the top of hills, a very cute scene of these birds hopping the flowers inside pine trees can be observed.
The male ducks have special pattern around their wing. Most often, they come to Hokkaido in winter, but some of them are said to breed in Hokkaido as well. The Japanese offshores are the southern limit of the duck’s breeding. They are listed as extinct individual group of animals in RDB of the ministry of Environment while the Hokkaido RDB lists as one of rare species. The bill is blue-gray, has mixed patterns around the head or under the arms. Most of the times, a pair can be found floating together along the coasts of Shiretoko Peninsula.
These birds completely black. They are distinguished with swollen yellow upper mandible. The color pattern of male and female differs while the color remains same even either in summer or winter. These winter birds are mostly found in Pacific, Hokuriku region of Japan. Often, they breed in northern seaside of Eurasia or Alaska and seem to be passing the winter in northern hemisphere. Black Scoters can be found in the sea shores or fishing port of Shiretoko Peninsula like other seabirds. They dive into the water to catch crustaceans like shrimp, float them in water surface and swallow.
They are known to be the king of Shiretoko Peninsula. Formally, they are subspecies of bear. The species gathered in Peninsula a large in number, which you can observe easily from summer or autumn. In Rausu, we can observe the Brown Bears by using small boat of local fisherman, which are generally used to collect sea urchin or kelp. These boats are called “Sewatashi” boats and are driven by the locally grown fisherman who are deeply knowledgeable of the area, because of which we can approach the nearest possible point to observe the Brown Bears. Brown Bears hold big molar tooth, have comparatively small stomach similar the carnivorous animals, not fit for a plant eating animal. Again, being large sized animals, Brown Bears are only hibernating animals, they hibernate in winter to get rid of the scarcity of food. To cross the hibernation period, it is said that they grow up to 100kgs of their weight. Again, even though they are large sized animals, about 90% of their food is grass found in the mountains. They eat bulb of Skunk Cabbage, Fuki, Japanese parsley, Siberian Dwarf Pine etc. They eat the animals very less, almost limited to insects like ant. To save their energy, they don’t hunt animals like deer, but eat the dead one. The ratio of salmon eating Brown Bears is said to be almost 10%.
We can observe a lot of Ezo-Shika’s in Shiretoko Peninsula. They are covered with beautiful small patterned summer fur. In winter, the whole body is covered with grey-brown fur. The Japanese deer are classified into 14 sub-species, and only 6 species are found in the main islands of Japan. Inside the sub-species, Ezo-Shika lies into Hokkaido sub-species, Cervus Nippon under Cervida. As an example of homeotherms living in northern part are said to be bigger in size (Bergmann's rule), the Ezo- Shika deer are the largest in size from in the Japanese deer. The change in population being furious, the main problem being barks of indigenous trees in Shiretoko Paninsula turn dry by getting nibbled. On the other hand, to regulate the population, they are also thought from an aspect of making processed meat. With the spread of venison, there is also Ezo-Shika Farm in Shari Town where the hunted Ezo-shika are processed into meat product. The Ezo-Shika deer have been important source of meat from ancient time in Hokkaido.
Ezo Red Fox
Ezo red fox is another animal with high chances of observation after Ezo Shika deer. We may able to see Ezo red fox in the sideways of roads, even in local houses sometimes. They make their nest in unused houses, live in the same place for long with their families. They are covered with red fur from their head to back while the chin to stomach is covered with white fur, featured with a white tip on their long tail. They eat anything from animal meat to plants. Please be careful, if you are driving in shiretoko peninsula during the night time, as they may jump from the forest by the side of the road.
They are called [RipunKamui] in Ainu Language which means “god of the sea”. They are 6~8 m long, and due to their hunting ability, they are called the “king of the sea”. Killer whales swim to Muroto Strait every May ~ June, and they are observable from Fisher boats departing from Rausu. The killer whales at Nemuro Strait at curious, they approach the fisher boat. We may be able to see the spy hop, who show their head above the water level, or the cute whales breaching above the sea. If looked closely, the white eye patch and the shape of the back is different in each group. To identify the groups, a survey is being conducted these days. If you time favors, you may be able to capture the picture of Petrels and Killer whales together.
Sperm whales can be observed in Nemuro Strait when in Summer. The male adult can be as big as 20m long. Sperm whales can swim as deep as 1000m from the sea surface and they catch squid to eat. One they go deep in the sea, they don’t come out for 40min ~ 1 hour, and when they come out, they fluke up and the fin tail can be observed. The whale watching ships keep contacting each other, and if it is seen anywhere, the other ships run to that direction and the sperm whale can be observed for around 10minutes, which keeps on blowing up while respirating. If the weather is clear, we may also observe the blows of sperm whales at nemuro strain from Rausu sea shores of Rausu.
There are two types of it. One which is living in the cold region (Dall’s porpoise) and the other which lives only around the tohoku and Hokkaido region of Japan (Truei type). The swimming speed is as fast as 55km/hr. They can be easily recognized, as they make letter V type of water spray while swimming. There is high chance of meeting these in Rausu’s sea from Spring to summer.
Places to see in Shiretoko
Washi No Yado / rausu
[Washi No Yado] is Japan’s natural monument and also a place to observe the endangered Blakiston’s Fish Owl. Often, the photographers, bird watchers from the world are gathered here. If you use the accommodation properties outside, you can also use the place just to observe the Blakiston’s Fish Owl. There is a cage made with diameter of around 90CMs at the Chitorai River flowing next to Washi No Yado and Trout and other small fishes are kept alive inside the cage. The Blakiston’s Fish Owl comes to the river to catch those Trouts and other fishes, and this is the only time we can observe it. They live inside the nest made by the Environment ministry. The time and condition of observing Blakiston’s Fish owl is changed every time. Also, only authorized persons can access the nest made inside the forest. The time and movement of Blakiston’s fish owl are recorded every day. The time of possible observation can be guesses based on the records. To make the photographers able to take photos without using the flash light of camera, wave light is set on the spot. This is because the Blakiston’s fish owl may get in stress, if the photographers use a lot of cameras with flash light.
■Learn more about Washi No Yado here
Kuma No Yu / rausu
Since the Shiretoko Peninsula was formed due to the movement of volcano, you can find plenty of natural hot springs. [Kuma No Yu] is located near the entrance of Shiretoko and furnished with a lot of parking spaces. The other side of the building, which is reached after crossing the bridge has two separate buildings for the ladies and gentlemen, with changing rooms. The best feature of the hot spring is [The temperature of water is hot]. The hot spring aside the main one, which is almost in the same temperature compared to the main hot spring is very hot to the people who get here for the first time. Though the hot spring is for free, there are local people resting nearby, so please bear good manner and use it with cleanliness so that the one next to you can use it with good feeling.
Rausu Kombu・Banya / rausu
Rausu is the origin of luxury food, the Rausu kelp. Kelp contains a lot of glutamate in it, which is referred as “umami” in Japanese. Kelps are not only used in Japanese food, but also in French or Italian these days. The Rausu kelps is graded to different classes, divided into 23 different parts from harvest to final formation. All these 23 parts are operated by hand. The kelps of Rausu, which are prepared under a strict quality management, are mostly used as (soup kelp), which give light yellow strong soup compared to other kelps.
Shiretoko Pass / rausu
The Shiretoko Pass, which is at an altitude of 738m, connects Utoro and Shiretoko, intersecting the Shiretoko Peninsula. A part of Kunashir Island, which encloses Muroto Strait, can be seen from the Pass. The highest peak of Shiretoko, called “Rausu Dake” (1661m), can be observed too. Most often, the road to the pass is closed due to high snowfall in the winter. In last of April, snow plow trucks are used to remove the snow and open the roads. We can find a lot of Brown Bears, fox, Ezo Shika deers. Specially, if you are driving in the morning or evening, please take care, as you may hit the wildlife. In recent days, there are also a number of bike riders to the pass, exploring the beauties of Shiretoko.
Drift Ice Walk / utoro
The drift ices flow to Shiretoko Peninsula in February ~ March where the drift ice walk is available. Dry suits, which is water proof is needed before entering the ice area. (the dry suit and gloves are included in the package). Generally, climbing on the drift ice is danger, but in this course, you are leaded by the specialist guide for a safe experience. Of course, you can participate in the afternoon as well, but the sunset time is best for the experience. The drift ice experience is not available in other places, so please contact if you want to participate.
Salmon-run / rausu
The west part of Shiretoko is popular for Salmon Fishing. Again, in August ~ October, the salmon run can be observed in Rausu too. Basically, chum salmon and pink salmon can be seen in Rausu. In Hokkaido, the river where the (Akiaji) salmon run can be seen is diversified from California to Korean Peninsula / North Pacific Ocean of Japan, Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk、Sea of Japan and a part of arctic ocean. Most of the resources of chum salmon (In Japan) is artificial hatching. Every year, the total number of stocked larva salmon is around 18 billion, number of regressions in these 10 years (2005 ~ 2014) is 55 million 8 hundred fifty thousand in average. The salmon which starts running in the river becomes hard, so its not suitable to eat. Again, to catch the river running salmon, a special fishery right is required. A lot of people gather in fishery harbor or where the river meets with the sea, to catch salmon before it starts running into river.
Shiretoko Goko（Five Lakes） / Trekking・Hiking
Shiretoko Five lakes, called Shiretoko Goko by the locals, is a lake formed as a result of the volcano burst of Iouzan Mountain. Since there is a high chance to witness the wild brown bears, a number of ways to keep the visitor safe are applied. The elevated boardwalk (1.6km), which is accessible even by wheelchair users is set high from the ground level so that the brown bears won’t reach. In addition, there are regular nature trails (big loop 3km, small loop 1.6km), where you need to take a lecture regarding the brown bears before you start walking on it. The nature trails have very less ups and downs, so if you are nature lover, you may feel it worthy. In a clear day, you may observethe mountains reflected in the weate surface of shiretoko five lakes while in the winter, you may see drift ices. The way you walk here differs based on the season. Please check this link for the further details. (Link will open a new page of the environment ministry).
Though this route is just 3kms (two way), the hiking trails are nicely maintained, and the last part of the trail contains a wooden path as well. In summer, the alpine plants grow up, we may see the Ezo Shika parent and a child enjoying together at the lakeside. Through the entrance is near the Shiretoko pass, there is no parking lot. So, either need to park in Shiretoko pass and walk for around 30minutes, or take the local bus to access the route. Long boots are recommended since the road is muddy. These long boots can be rented from Shiretoko Visitor center. Also, you may witness brown bears, so please check the information from the visitor center before you start trekking.
Rausu Dake(Mt.Rausu) is the highest peak in Shiretoko (1,660m), representing Shiertoko. There are two different routes to climb. The First one comes from Utoro route via Iwaobetsu hot spring. This is the popular route, 13.8km and takes around 9 hours for round trip trek. The other route comes from Rausu. This is 15.4km and takes around 12 hours. Since this route is not maintained well, a good climbing experience and equipment’s like ice axe are required. The area near the top is a ridge, we may see people using hands to climb on it. Since we need to cross the world heritage site to climb it, we are obliged to use disposal toilets. The Nemuro strait and Sea of Okhotsk can be seen from the top.
Traverse Shiretoko mountain range / Trekking・Hiking
To traverse the Shiretoko mountain range, we need to take tent, water, cooking utensils or other necessary equipment’s. The route starts from Rausu, crossing the Iouzan mountain is mostly used. IF you want to enjoy the nature slowly, 2night 3days trips are recommended. The trek level is almost same as that of Northern Alps mountains. You may witness the wild brown bears, so if you are traveling alone, it is recommended to bring sprays to get the bears away. Please consult with Shiretoko Visitor center or contact us to learn about the sprays. You can also take the guide’s services who are specialized to the Shiretoko mountain climbing.
Places around Shiretoko
Situated at the base of Shiretoko Peninsula, Furen lake is Japan’s 13th biggest lake. Furen lake contains brackish water by a mixture of fresh water and sea water, a wide wetland is spread around. These wetlands contain large grasslands where the Japanese cranes hide. These cranes build their nest in these grasslands. In winter, the water surface gets completely frozen and the migrating birds appear here. In 2005, Furen lake is registered in Ramsar Convention alongwith shunkunitai. (Ramsar convention is high level international political forum, bound to protect the wetlands). In shunkunitai, there are wooden broadways, where you can observe the wild animals and plants.
Village of Japanese cranes / Kushiro wetlands ・Tsurui Village
Kushiro, which is also known as a village of Japanese cranes, contains wetlands registered in Ramsar Convention and other natural resources. In winter, a lot of photographers gather in Ito Sanctuary, which is also a feeding place of the cranes, to take picture of these crane’s nest. Japanese cranes used to be seen even in other parts of Hokkaido and Honshu island of Japan, but due to urbanization, they started having difficulty to get the food, and the number is decreasing. They were thought to have been eradicated once, but due to protection activities, designating them as natural monuments, the number of increasing recently. The color and pattern of each differs from the other. The environment ministry has listed Japanese cranes as RDB endangered species II, Hokkaido’s endangered species, RDB II.
Between Shiretoko Peninsula and Nemuro Peninsula, there exists the largest sand made peninsula of Japan, called Notsuka Peninsula. It can be accessed on the way from Rausu to Nemuro or Nakashibetsu. It is shaped like a needle of key, popped out to the sea. This is another wetland registered into Ramsar Convention, to protect the wetlands. Since the Japanese Cranes, ducks can be observed here, there are a lot of bird watchers through the year. In animal, Ezo Shika Deers or Ezored fox are available. Fishing of Hokkaido Prawns, which are also called Utashe Ships can be seen in early summer or in autumn. Ships decorates with sails are used for this purpose. The Prawn fishing is are related to the local poems of Hokkaido. Hokkaido prawns, whose body is firm, are used in luxury food ingredients.
Kussharo lake, which lies in Teshikaga town is the largest caldera lake of Japan. There is a river hot spring nearby with high acidity, which also mixes with the lake. In winter, the lake gets frozen, but due to the hot spring, a part of lake is not frozen. A lot of Swans gather at this not frozen part which is a famous place to observe / Photograph the Swans. In summer, there are a lot of visitors in the ”sand hot spring” which has become a summer camping place. If the sand is dug with stone, there you find hot water. The peninsula around the lake is a beautiful drive route, where you can enjoy beautiful landscape while driving.