Day 4 (2/2).
Whale watching was the final act of our Shiretoko experience. The 2-hour outing in the Nemuro Strait turned out to be one of the biggest highlights of our trip. Located at the eastern coast of Shiretoko Peninsula, Rausu is the most popular spot in Japan for whale watching. Depending on the season, various kinds of whales might be found in the waters just off Rausu, including minke whales, sperm whales, orcas (killer whales), humpback whales (rare), Dall’s porpoises, giant beaked whales, and several types of dolphins. In the summer months, there would be a good chance to spot Orcas, also known as killer whales. Orca is the biggest member of the oceanic dolphin family. They are highly social animals that hunt and wander the sea in pods.
After three days of poor weather, the strong wind and rough sea had finally died down despite the overcast condition over Nemuro Strait. Returned from Shiretoko Pass, we went immediately to the office of Gojiraiwa Kanko Eco Tour (ゴジラ岩観光) in Rausu to make our cruise payment, get a quick snack near the tourist office, parked our car at the dock, and followed one the three queues to get on our cruise boat.
After three days of stormy weather, the sea was calm as we were about to set sail for the whale watching cruise.
Looking back towards the dock, we could see Mount Rausu rising beyond the village of Rausu.
After seeing several black dorsal fin dolphins popped out of the sea in the first ten minutes, our boat captain received the news that orcas had been spotted by the other cruise boats ahead of us. Soon we reached cruise boats and had our first encounter with the magnificent orcas of Nemuro Strait.
While the whales roam in the water of Nemuro Strait, Stellar Sea Eagles and White Tailed Eagles rule the sky.
Lies between Hokkaido’s Shiretoko Peninsula and the controversial Russian Kunashir Island (国後島), Nemuro Strait is one of the best place in the world for whale watching.
Orcas often appear in a pod. We were fortunate to follow a pod of around a dozen of orcas, even with a few juveniles.
Sometimes, the pod would get pretty close to one of the cruise boats.
Eventually, the pod of orcas broke up into a few smaller groups. Our boat followed one of the groups towards the direction of Rausu.
Each boat followed a different group of orca.
Seeing one of the juvenile killer whales in the pod was very exciting.
In a few moments, the whales swam really close to our boat.
A few of them even swam under our boat.
From a close distance, we could truly appreciate the true scale of the orca’s dosal fin.
Some scientists can identify different orcas just by studying their distinctive dorsal fins.
For most of the time, our boat continued to follow a small group of orcas.
It was the first whale watching cruise that we ever experienced. We were grateful that the cruise turned out to be a fruitful one.
After about 1.5 hour chasing the whales, it was time for our boat to return to the dock.
The majestic Mount Rausu signified our arrival of the village of Rausu.
Most fishing boats were parked behind the sea wall at the dock.
It seemed that most fishermen were staying away from the sea for another day. Whale watching offered us the perfect finale to for our Shiretoko journey. We picked up our car at the dock, had another seafood lunch at Jun no Banya (純の番屋), and left Shiretoko altogether for our next destination: Mashu Lake.
The sky was grey and the air was moist when we first hiked the Mizzy Lake Trail in 2007. After seeing a wild turkey dashing across our path, we followed the trail to an open area surrounded by spruce bogs. The trail cut right through the bogs, with peaceful ponds lying along both sides. It was 7:30 in the morning and we were all by ourselves. Soon we discovered footprints on the muddy path, some probably belonged to a fox, and some were hoof prints of a much larger animal. We continued to walk forward until we saw a dozen or so bare spruce trunks sticking out from the water. Reflection of their white trunks stood against the grey clouds in the tranquil water was occasionally disrupted by touches of water insects. Somehow the imagery touched us like a gentle poem. We looked at the scenery for a while and took some photos. As we turned our head back onto the trail, we immediately spotted something tall standing ahead. It had its back towards us, but soon it turned its head and looked right into our eyes. It was a tall cow moose, our first ever sighting of a moose. It stared at us for half a minute, then walked slowly down to the spruce bog on the left, crossed the water to the opposite shore, and disappeared into the spruce forest beyond. Moose, the largest animal in the deer family, is popular for wildlife sighting in North America. The English name “moose” is a word borrowed from the Algonquian language back in the 17th century. Spreading their two large toes to keep them from sinking, moose has adapted well living in the environment of spruce bogs, where they can walk on the peat filled marshland to feed on aquatic plants.
We saw beavers several times in Algonquin. Sometimes with sticks in their mouth, sometimes without, always in quick motion swimming across the water. But more often, we saw traces of their existence: pointed tree stumps, trunks with bite marks, mud and timber dams, and mounts of timber sticks in the pond. Back in the 17th century, when a large area of North America was owned by the Hudson Bay Company, beaver fur was one of the major exports from the New World. Nowadays, beaver has become a national emblem for Canada, appearing on the symbol and coat of arms of many organizations, companies and government departments, from Toronto Police to Canadian Pacific Railway, and has officially designated as the national animal in 1975. In Algonquin, beavers are probably the only animals other than humans that know how to alter a natural environment to create their desirable home. As the second largest rodent, beavers use their large teeth to harvest timber. Along with stones and mud, beavers use the timber to construct dams to alter stream flow in order to create wetlands known as the beaver ponds. A peaceful beaver pond contains water warmer than running streams, an ideal habitat for many wetland plants, frogs and fish. It also serves as a moat for the beaver lodge to prevent wolves and other predators. The longest beaver dam in record exists in Alberta, reaching up to 850m in length.
Spruce bogs and beaver ponds are two of the five major habitats found in the Algonquin Park. The other three includes the coniferous forest, deciduous forest, and rivers and lakes. Spruce bog is a type of wetland common in the north. Its water is quite acidic and full of floating vegetation that slowly accumulates into a thick layer of peat. Many birds frequent the bog, and so as moose which come to feed and drink. Beaver pond, on the other hand, belongs to the story of beavers continuously transforming the natural environment by building dams and ponds, creating a wetland that benefits many species and also serves as a natural filtration and stormwater system for the area. A pond may last until the death of a beaver, or until a fierce storm hits and damages the dam beyond repair. By then, nature will restore the area back to its original conditions, until the arrival of the next beaver to restart the cycle all over again.
Young moose shook off water after crossing a small stream (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012). That afternoon, we joked with each other and placed our bet on whether we would have the same moose encounter that we had five years ago. We waited patiently and dusk was approaching. When we were about to leave, we spotted this young moose. It was truly a magical moment for both of us.
This curious young moose walked from the wetland onto the trail. It seemed to be interested in us as it was slowly walking towards us. The cow moose that we encountered five years earlier at the same spot reacted differently. It walked away from us into forest after it made an eye contact with us. (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).
Bull and cow moose kept their eyes on the young moose while the young moose fixed its eyes upon us. We have vivid memory of each encounter with moose at Algonquin Park. The encounter becomes special and personal as each time there were only the moose and us. Every time, when we spotted the animal, we would keep our voice low and keep a distance from them as we didn’t want to disrupt or irritate them. (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).
After we had some good moments of moose encounter, we got to rush out of the Mizzy Lake Trail before dusk fell. We walked so fast that we were like racing with the sun. We’ll keep this peaceful image of Algonquin Park with us in mind no matter where we go.
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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario
Aliton from Pantanal Nature (our tour company) met us at 7am at the lobby of Hotel Mato Grosso. At his car, we met a couple from England who had also booked their tour with Pantanal Nature. We drove out of Cuiaba. On the way, we picked up a few bottles of water, and filled up the gas before entering the Transpantaneira Highway. The Transpantaneira Highway is a dirt road built in early 1970s intended to bisect Pantanal from north to south. Only 145km of the originally intended 397km was built. With 145km and 125 bridges, according to some, Transpantaneria has the highest concentration of wooden bridges in the world. The road work also created many ditches on both sides, accidentally providing water ponds where caimens and waterbirds love to gather, especially during the dry season. During the 1.5-hour drive on our way to the lodge, we saw caimens, rheas, and many kinds of water birds.
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Read other posts on Pantanal, Brazil
Day 9.1 – Trail of Waterfalls, Chapada dos Guimaraes
Day 9.2 – Stone City, Chapada dos Guimaraes
Day 10.1 – Pantanal
Day 10.2 – Transpantaneria Highway, Pantanal
Day 10.3 – Pousada Rio Claro, Pantanal
Day 10.4 – Rio Claro Boat Tour, Pantanal
Day 11.1 – Morning Safari and Forest Walk, Pantanal
Day 11.2 – Rio Claro, Pantanal
Day 12.1 – Morning Walk, Pantanal
Day 12.2 – Pouso Alegre Lodge, Pantanal
Day 12.3 – Afternoon Walk and Evening Safari, Pananal
Day 12.4 – Night of Caimans
Day 13.1 – Farewell Pantanal, Brazil
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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought