Hokkaido is home to many rare wildlife species, many of which are endemic to the area. Visitors can observe an array of wild animals throughout the year, and even join tours that combine wildlife observation with activities such as cruises and kayaking.
Observe Wildlife all Year Round
In Hokkaido, visitors can catch glimpses of many rare animals that cannot be found in other parts of Japan. All manner of wildlife can be seen on wildlife observation tours, which are available throughout the year.
Summer to Autumn: Brown bears, orca, dolphins, whales, seals, and Japanese cranes
Winter: Japanese cranes, Steller’s sea eagles, white-tailed eagles, whooper swans, seals
Year-round: Ezo deer, Ezo red foxes, pikas, Ezo squirrels, Ural owls, Blakiston’s fish owls
The World Natural Heritage site of Shiretoko and Kushiro-Shitsugen wetland are home to some of Hokkaido’s most popular wild animals, including brown bears, Japanese cranes and Steller’s sea eagles.
The brown bear is an iconic creature. Found only in Hokkaido, it is the largest land mammal in Japan. Similarly, the Japanese crane can be found almost exclusively in eastern Hokkaido. The best time to see the Japanese cranes is in the winter, when their signature red crowns stand at a striking contrast to the stark white snowy backdrop.
The Ezo fox, Ezo deer, and Ezo squirrel are also endemic to Hokkaido, differing from their counterparts on the main island of Japan. They can be seen in various locations across Hokkaido, and are beloved for their adorable appearance.
The region also has a rich collection of birdwatching spots. Watch out for one of the largest eagles in Japan, the Steller’s sea eagle, flying to east Hokkaido in winter, as well as flocks of over 60,000 white-fronted geese in the Miyajima marshlands near Sapporo in spring and autumn. Teuri Island, off the northwestern coast of Hokkaido, is one of the world’s most important breeding grounds for seabirds. In spring and early summer, it’s packed with colonies of the common guillemot, the rhinoceros auklet, and other rare birds.
Wildlife x Recreational Activities
Wildlife observation tours are conducted in various parts of Hokkaido. Since encountering brown bears on land is dangerous, cruises in Shiretoko offer visitors a chance to observe them from a safe distance. There’s a very high probability of spotting one in the summer months.
More than ten different species of whales can be seen between May and October if you take a nature cruise in Shiretoko Peninsula’s Rausu area. In June, there’s a high chance of observing orcas.
Many wildlife watching tours can be combined with outdoor activities such as kayaking. From May to October, the endangered harbor seal can be spotted when sea-kayaking around Cape Erimo. Visitors in May and June may even see some cute seal pups.
From February to March, visitors have the rare opportunity to take a drift ice and birdwatching cruise in Rausu to observe raptors such as the Steller’s sea eagle and white-tailed eagle feeding on fish. At Kushiro-Shitsugen wetland, winter canoe tours are the perfect way to enjoy the beautiful winter landscape at a leisurely pace as you look out for cranes and white-tailed eagles.