A Whale Surfaces in Tokyo Bay
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A Whale Surfaces in Tokyo Bay

    Over the past week, Japan's Coast Guard has been patrolling Tokyo Bay, warning vessels to watch out for a whale. Multiple sightings have been reported of the animal in what is one of the world's busiest ocean channels. The whale, believed to have wandered into the bay, has authorities worried about possible collisions with vessels.

    Multiple sightings

    Hideki Morita caught sight of a whale jumping out of the water on June 24th. He was on his motor boat on his way home after fishing. He says the whale leapt out of the water several times, about 5 meters into the air. "I go out to the ocean to fish every week, but I have never seen a whale before", Morita says. "The sound of the splash was so loud."

    A few hours later, another fisherman saw a whale spraying vapor from its blowhole. Kiyomi Seino says he had been keeping his eyes on the waters after hearing the reports, and was pleased to actually see the whale. "I was stunned, but it was a happy surprise!" Seino says.

    Coast Guard officials say there have been at least 5 reports of whale sightings in Tokyo Bay from June 18-24. They say they sometimes get reports of dolphins or seals, but whales are rare.

    Expert says it's a wandering humpback

    Professor Emeritus at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology Hidehiro Kato says the whale is an adult humpback, about 13 meters long. He says it probably wandered into the bay after getting separated from its group. He says it is likely part of a pod of humpback whales that breeds in waters off southeastern Japan and migrates north to waters off the Kamchatcka Peninsula every June.

    "I think this could become an increasingly frequent sight," Kato says. He says the global humpback population has increased about fivefold over the past 15 years, largely due to preservation efforts.

    Coast Guard Issues Warning

    The Coast Guard has issued a warning for vessels and boats to keep watch for the whale. About 500 to 1,000 ships travel through Tokyo Bay every day, making it one of the most high-traffic sea channels in the world.

    In 2006, a whale is believed to have collided with a ferry off Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan. Nearly 100 people were injured. Coast Guard officials say there have been 11 other accidents involving maritime animals between 2008 and 2017.

    Kato says whales are known to jump out of the water in reaction to the sound of boat engines. He says he believes the whale is likely to make its way out of Tokyo Bay eventually, but if it doesn't, its presence could become a problem for fisheries and sea transports.

    While it might make for great pictures for sightseers, the Tokyo Bay whale could become a source of headaches for others.